The Stonewall Inn’s status as a national landmark may be at risk following Donald Trump’s plans to review all sites similarly designated by his presidential predecessor
The Salt Lake Tribune has reported that Trump will sign an executive order Wednesday calling on federal authorities to revisit all such designations made in the previous two decades in order to “discern whether their size and scope” are within the original “intent” of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Established under Teddy Roosevelt, the law lets the president use the powers of his office to preserve any “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects” deemed of “historic or scientific interest.”
One of the 29 landmarks subject to review by the Trump Administration is the Stonewall Inn, which President Barack Obama designated as a national monument last year. Revoking the landmark status of Stonewall, the site of the 1969 riots that marked a groundbreaking moment for the nascent gay liberation movement, would amount to the ultimate erasure of a community that has been quietly under attack by the White House since Trump’s inauguration. The president has spent his first 100 days relentlessly rolling back the rights of LGBT people, even as he has insisted that he’s a champion for queer and transgender equality.
Stonewall is more than just a bar. It’s a symbol for the crucial progress that the LGBT community has made over the past five decades, as well as a reminder that we still must struggle to be seen as human in a country where queer and trans folks continue to be killed for living our truths. To take Stonewall’s landmark status away would be more than an erasure of LGBT people. It would be assault upon the very foundations of our movement.
The recognition of Stonewall’s historical import came at a devastating time for the LGBT community. Obama announced that the iconic establishment, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, would be added to the monuments list following the June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which a lone gunman killed 49 people. In a speech following the gay bar massacre, Obama remarked that Pulse had been a “safe haven” for the LGBT community. He said that the club was “a place to sing and dance, and most importantly, to be who you truly are.”
That is the purpose that bars have always served for LGBT people, as places to organize and build community but also to have the fullness of our identities recognized. The Stonewall riots, violence that erupted during a six-day standoff with police in June 1969, marked a watershed moment in the willingness of LGBT folks to fight for our visibility and our right to exist. The riots were a response to frequent police raids of gay bars across the country — disruptions that had provoked a similar demonstration at Los Angeles’ Black Cat Tavern two years earlier. That pervasive police brutality was a staple of gay life in the 1960s — with queer people being beaten and thrown into jail for doing nothing more than being themselves. And they had had enough.
Although LGBT folks had been organizing for decades, Stonewall forced a community that spent most of its history underground out into the open. The demonstration was commemorated the following year with the nation’s first Pride parades, but Stonewall would continue to serve as a symbolic site to which LGBT people returned for decades to come — in celebration, struggle and even mourning. It was the site where marriage equality activists cheered the legalization of same-sex unions in 2015, where we remembered the Pulse victims a year later, and where a community gathered in shock and sadness following the 2016 election. Last November crowds gathered outside Stonewall as the LGBT community struggled to figure out what was next.
Speculation that Trump will take action against Stonewall might seem to you like knee-jerk liberal outrage, and perhaps it is. We have no way of knowing what’s on the president’s agenda. But Trump has given the LGBT community every reason to be concerned that he will continue to do everything in his power to be applauded for being an ally while quietly working against our welfare.
During the 2016 election, Trump claimed he would be a “friend” to the LGBT community, but his administration has represented the greatest setback to queer and trans rights in decades. Shortly after taking office, the president announced that he would be revoking guidance issued by the Obama White House in 2016 on best practices for K-12 administrators in regard to respecting the identities of trans students. Although he has claimed he will not repeal a 2014 executive order that granted nondiscrimination protection to federal contractors, Trump has nixed oversight of those regulations, making the Obama order difficult to enforce.
Trump has done almost nothing to show the LGBT community he would be the defender of our rights that he claimed he would be. Under his watch, the government revoked questions about elderly LGBT people on two federal surveys, making it harder to gauge the needs of a marginalized and vulnerable population. Studies show that older LGBT adults are twice as likely as their peers to be single and live alone, as well as three to four times less likely than heterosexuals to have children to take care of them and offer support. This population needs our advocacy, not more isolation and invisibility.
That’s precisely what many fear is happening under the current presidency — that Trump is not only chipping away at LGBT rights but also erasing queer and trans people from public life.
It’s impossible not to feel that way when every single day Trump gives the LGBT community, which has weathered decades of struggle, a reason to be fear that his White House is no different from the police officers who kicked down the doors of Stonewall in the 1960s. Nearly every member of his Cabinet is a committed opponent of LGBT rights. This includes the secretary of state, who tried to block an LGBT student group from meeting on a public campus, as well as the secretary of education, whose family has donated millions to anti-gay causes. Most recently, Trump nominated as secretary of the Army,Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator who claimed that transgender people are “evil” and need to be “crushed.”
The president's stripping Stonewall of its landmark status might appear to some to be an outrageous and absurd suggestion, but it would be no different than what happens on any other day in Trump’s White House. He might have waved a rainbow flag one time at a rally, but that doesn’t mean that the president cares one iota about what our community needs, wants or deserves.
If there’s one thing that could stop Trump from repealing Stonewall’s place among U.S. national monuments, it’s not his deep and abiding love for “the gays,” his preferred moniker for the community. It’s the limits of presidential power.
Robert D. Rosenbaum, the chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of the National Parks Conservation Association, wrote in The Washington Post that the president has the power only to make a particular site a recognized landmark, not to revoke the designation of previously recognized locations. Although members of Congress who want Trump to revisit designations like those for Utah’s Bears Ears Monument and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (both Obama picks) assert that he has “implied power” to take them off the registry, Rosenbaum has claimed the president does not. That power, Rosenbaum said, is allotted “exclusively to Congress.”
Stonewall, as it has for decades, will likely withstand this latest challenge to the LGBT community. But its future should be protected from people like Trump, who are the very reason that we must keep fighting for our liberty and our very right to exist. Our history is too important to erase.