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New York Lawmakers Join Fight To Honor Stonewall Inn With A National Park

“It’s important to present the story of the struggle for civil rights of LGBT Americans," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

A new initiative has launched to create a national park honoring the Stonewall Inn, the symbolic birthplace of the modern LGBT-rights movement.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are attached to the campaign, which launched Sunday, just days before Roland Emmerich's Stonewall hits theaters on Friday.

“It’s important to expand the diversity of this story presented by the National Park Service, in this case, to present the story of the struggle for civil rights of LGBT Americans," Nadler told the Washington Blade.

"There is nothing in the National Park System that deals with this, and that’s a huge omission in terms of the history of this country, the history of this struggle and the ongoing struggle for human rights.”

Martha Shelley, who organized the first gay liberation march (what is now the New York Pride Parade) a year after the riots, is also hard at work getting the Stonewall recognized for its importance in LGBT—and American—history.

“It’s important for people to know the history, and instead of being a shameful secret and being the kind of people who get destroyed really for being who they are, we ought to be celebrated for who we are,” she said. “And it’s important for people to understand change has happened, those kinds of changes. Because ordinary people protest, because ordinary people are out in the street.”

If the park is approved, Stonewall would join the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail as one of the NPS' monuments to civil rights. President Obama himself connected the three spaces in his second inaugural address.

In 2014, the Department of the Interior began an extensive study on how to incorporate LGBT history and locations into the the National Park Service.

Stonewall was designated a national historic landmark in 2000, a lesser title bestowed on some 2,500 sites nationwide. In June, the bar was granted official city landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Rep. Nadler is planning on sponsoring a bill that would designate a national park in honor of the Stonewall uprising, but he says he's “not terribly hopeful,” given that the GOP currently controls both houses of Congress.

President Obama could also establish a national monument via an executive order, under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

“It’s a designation of national monument, but... for all intents and purposes, it is a national park,” said Cortney Worrall of the National Parks Conservation Association. “[The president] would be designating it as a national park. And he does not require congressional approval for this at all; this is something that he has the administrative authority to do.”

The president can only designate a national monument on federal property, however, and nearby Christopher Park, where protestors gathered, is owned by New York City. Advocates are hoping the city would transfer ownership of the park, located across the street from the Stonewall, to the federal government.

“It has to become at least legally federal land," explained Nadler. "The National Park Service is working with New York City to figure out how to meet the federal legal requirements so the president can make the designation.”

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has, at least initially, endorsed the campaign: “Stonewall represents a seminal moment in American history, and in the history of civil rights,” he said. “This site deserves to be honored for the brave people who stood here against injustice. Their actions served as a catalyst for the equal rights movement and should never be forgotten.”