Ben Murphy sat close to his boyfriend Saturday afternoon on a bench in Christopher Park, a historic site that President Barack Obama on Friday designated the United States’ first national monument to the gay-rights movement.
Nearly 47 years earlier, the NYPD had raided the nearby Stonewall Inn, arresting and beating gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patrons and triggering days of protest riots.
“This is kind of an anchoring place,” Murphy, 35, said of the Stonewall site, where celebrants went after the U.S. Supreme Court last year legalized same-sex marriage and where mourners congregated after the June 12 Orlando shootings that killed 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse.
The .145-acre park, one of more than 400 historic sites nationally that include the Grand Canyon and Alexander Hamilton’s house, is a memorial to what happened there in June 1969, when a common occurrence — gay bars being swarmed by cops — led to uncommon riots. Various state laws at the time banned gay sex, establishments could be shuttered for serving homosexuals and the police would harass gay people.
The newly-designated monument, which will have a park ranger assigned daily starting Tuesday, on Saturday attracted a stream of camera-wielding tourists, curious onlookers and gay people who wanted to make a pilgrimage to the site.
Murphy, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said the president’s designation is “perfectly timed with Pride.” The annual parade, which begins at noon Sunday in Manhattan, commemorates the 1969 riots. Last year’s parade attracted at least 1.6 million spectators, police said last week, and this year’s is expected to draw even more.
Lauren Graves, 16, a high school junior from Indianapolis who is in New York celebrating her birthday, sat at the park gate with her mother.
“It’s about time the LGBT community has a monument,” the teen said. “I think every single group of people, in time, has gotten recognition. The black community has monuments. Women do. It makes sense that they’re finally recognized for their struggles and treated as equals.”
But support for full LGBT legal rights is not universal.
In Times Square, as a video of Obama feting Stonewall as “the site of historic protests for LGBT rights” loomed on a 120-foot-by-84-foot screen, tourist Dante Jackson stood beneath with his sons, 12 and 1. Marriage, he said his God teaches, “is between one man and one woman.”
“I think that’s the way it is,” said Jackson, who lives in Baltimore.
Mark Strickland, 58, of Jersey City, said the official recognition of important sites helps closeted people feel less alone.
“I think there are many people who are afraid to come out because of the hatred and rejection and calling it a sin,” he said. “To have other people countering that and say it’s normal and part of our society is very helpful.”