Christopher Park, across from the Stonewall Inn, is part of an eight-acre area designated as a national monument by President Obama in 2016. Photo: Jaden Satenstein
LGBT Pride Month is in full swing in New York City, with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising adding extra interest and excitement to the month’s celebrations. In addition to the annual LGBT Pride March on Sunday June 30, events will include a rally to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising, when members of the LGBTQ+ community rioted in the wake of a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, on June 28, 1969. The initial incident and the days of demonstrations that followed sparked the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States.
An eight-acre area surrounding the Stonewall Inn was designated a national monument by President Obama in 2016. It includes Christopher Park, directly across the street from the inn. The park features the Gay Liberation Monument, a sculpture of two men standing and two women sitting on a bench together, created in 1980 by American artist George Segal and dedicated in 1992. It draws visitors from near and far, as it did on a sunny afternoon last week.Respect and Progress
For New Jersey resident Francesca Scirocco, visiting the monument is a must-do every time she’s in New York. “Especially being a member of the community, it’s so important for us to kind of be around and just make sure we pay our respects to those who started such a big movement,” Scirocco said.
While some visitors make the trip to the monument often, others had only recently learned of the Stonewall Uprising, thanks to the attention it’s received in the media, leading up to the 50th anniversary.
“I read about the riots this morning and I had never heard about them, never knew anything about them,” said Baltimore-native Jamil Batcha. “I’m not originally from New York. I don’t know if I’d blame myself or the education ... I just never learned about this.”
Batcha noted the importance of the monument as a way to recognize and acknowledge the historic oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the United States, and the progress that still needs to be made toward equality. “Growing up in the 1990s and stuff, homosexuality was still taboo and I think everyone, myself included, probably used the word ‘gay’ too often in a negative connotation,” Batcha said. “And so I know I’ve changed, and people have taught me and hopefully others have as well.”An Apology at Last
In addition to the excitement surrounding Pride Month and the 50th anniversary, many visitors were drawn to the site last week to celebrate another monumental event — New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill’s official apology for the department’s actions during the raid and the anti-gay laws of the time.
New York resident Michael Connor decided to visit the site after hearing O’Neill’s apology, stating that it was a “monumental day” for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. “Every step is a step in the right direction,” said Connor. “It’s really about creating a sense of love. And so people are starting to feel that. And I think that even our police commissioner sees that, because our city is just based on love.”Paying Homage
For Joey Cocciardi, who has lived in New York for over 15 years, the monument serves as a way to initiate conversation regarding the diversity of identities and experiences within the New York community. “I think that everyone should be talking about everything as much as they can, and the information is just kind of the key to it all,” Cocciardi said. “This is a really good example of it. I think you can add your own stories. The more information there is, the stronger the monument is, the bigger the impact it will have.”
Christopher Park, currently lined with rainbow flags for Pride month, welcomes both those coming to visit the monument and people simply looking for a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the city. “I just kind of like the vibe around here,” Julianna Eddy, a photographer visiting the city from Connecticut, said. “I feel like it’s really safe and just a good place to kind of just meet people.”
This positive energy reflects the sense of acceptance and celebration of identity felt by many visitors, including Rhysand Brown, a member of the LGBTQ+ community who visited New York from Ringgold, Georgia, which he described as a “less than accepting area.” Brown was “overwhelmed” by the displays of LGBTQ+ pride he witnessed at the monument.
“Especially since it’s the 50th anniversary, everything’s rainbow and everything’s Pride and you see all these things that remind you that you’re not alone in who you are and that you still have the same community even though you may be far away from it,” Brown said. “And I just wanted to pay homage to my predecessors in the trans and gay community because I don’t have that same access at home to see all those people… And it’s just surreal. To see something of that much importance in my heritage as an LGBTQ person is amazing.”