After protecting more than 265 million acres of land since becoming president — most of it wilderness — Obama signed a proclamation Friday morning to protect a tiny piece of the country's biggest city: 7.7 acres in Manhattan.
The president designated the site of the Stonewall Riots, where LGBT people pushed back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, as the first national monument to LGBT rights.
“The riots became protests,” Obama said in a video announcing the Stonewall National Monument. “The protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.”
“Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights,” he continued. "I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country — the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us. That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one."
On Friday afternoon, dozens of pilgrims who had come to New York City for the city's LGBT pride celebration — which commemorates the Stonewall Uprising — milled about the new monument.
Marta Acedo had come from Seattle with her granddaughter and daughter, who was born in New York City month before the Stonewall riots.
“I am a lesbian,” Acedo told BuzzFeed News, explaining her gratitude for the president honoring the spot where she stood. “For me, it’s a recognition that we are part of the fabric of this nation.”
Melanie Ojwang, 22, was visiting from Maryland with three friends from various states who had sought out the Stonewall Inn. She believed Obama’s willingness to recognize the LGBT community comes in part from the fact that he's black, even if he’s not gay.
“As a minority, he recognizes other minorities — that they need a safe space and that need to be acknowledged,” Ojwang said. “Given that the other presidents were old white men, they may not have recognized the struggle of minorities. Obama can still connect to someone being oppressed.”
The monument’s boundary encompasses Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks — reflecting the same boundaries of the existing Stonewall National Historic Landmark established in 2000.
Under the new designation, only the park itself will become federal land, managed by the National Park Service. Designating sites as national monuments, which can only be created on federal land, permanently protects the location. Federal landmarks, in contrast, can be privately-owned properties subject to changes by the owners.
In his proclamation, Obama reflected on the how the LGBT movement advanced after the Stonewall Uprising, saying, "Hard-fought civil rights victories in courtrooms and statehouses across the country set the stage for victories in the Supreme Court that would have seemed unthinkable to those who rose up in Greenwich Village in June 1969. Today, communities, cities, and nations celebrate LGBT Pride Days and Months, and the number of Pride events approaches 1,000."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents Manhattans’ west side in Congress, helped lead the effort to designate the monument. Sitting on a bench in Christopher Park, he told BuzzFeed News, “I’m glad we got it done in time for the parade coming by on Sunday.”
“You have to push to get this into the school books, and we will,” he said. “The fact that the federal government declared this a monument will help — even eventually Texas will have to explain why.”