NEW YORK – Gay rights activists who worked to get a rainbow flag installed permanently at the newly created Stonewall National Monument are upset the National Park Service says the flag isn’t actually on federal land but on property owned by the city.
The distinction may seem like a minor one because the flag is still flying either way. But to the group that had lobbied for the flag to be added to the site, the Park Service’s surprise announcement that the city, not the federal government, would be maintaining the flag and its pole seemed like a betrayal.
“They’re trying to make the gay community insignificant,” said Scott Gorenstein, a spokesman for Wednesday’s flag dedication event. “They’re trying to make us disappear. We’re saying we are here, this is our flag.”
The Park Service denied that any slight was intended, but the dispute threatened to dim the mood at the dedication ceremony, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
President Barack Obama created the Stonewall National Monument last year in an area around the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar where patrons resisted a police raid in 1969, giving a spark to the nascent gay rights movement.
The monument, the nation’s first federal monument to gay rights, covers several blocks, but a small city park across the street from the Stonewall Inn became federally owned and maintained because of the designation.
Activists pushed to add a rainbow flag to a flagpole on a triangle of sidewalk just outside the park fence, where a United States flag, a POW-MIA flag and a National Park Service flag were already flying.
The Park Service donated a rainbow flag and began flying it last month but later realized the flagpole is actually on city land, said Joshua Laird, the commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor.
“We raised the flag on September 28. We did that on a pole that we were maintaining but didn’t own,” Laird said after Wednesday’s dedication ceremony. “I think the main thing is that the pride flag is flying over the site.”
Laird acknowledged the Park Service removed its own flag from the pole last week.
Activists said Park Service officials told them Tuesday that they were pulling out of the flag dedication, prompting speculation President Donald Trump’s administration had pressured the local office to scale back its involvement.
“Yesterday they told us that they could not participate,” said Ken Kidd, an organizer of the flag dedication.
Laird disputed that account, saying in an email: “We never pulled our support.”
City parks department spokesman Sam Biederman said the city “is very proud to step in to carry the banner for LGBTQI rights following this weekend’s transfer of the flag to city jurisdiction.”
Speakers at the flag dedication ceremony assailed Trump, whose attorney general, Jeff Sessions, moved last week to reverse an Obama-era policy protecting transgender people from discrimination.
“We’re here to assert our membership in the community of the United States of America,” said longtime lesbian activist Ann Northrop. “That membership is still in dispute with the higher-ups in the Trump administration. But we embrace everybody, and we are proud of ourselves and will continue to do that no matter who opposes us.”
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