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National Park Service Backs Out of Stonewall Rainbow Flag Ceremony

By Maya Rajamani | October 12, 2017 9:46am
 Activists unveil a rainbow flag at Stonewall National Monument on Oct. 11.
Activists unveil a rainbow flag at Stonewall National Monument on Oct. 11.
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Erik McGregor

WEST VILLAGE — The National Park Service backed out of a rainbow flag-raising ceremony at the Stonewall Inn and and transferred its flagpole-maintenance duties to the city in a move stemming from “bureaucratic homophobia,” according to the agency and the event’s organizers.

On Wednesday, activists unveiled a rainbow flag at the historic gay bar on Christopher Street, which then-President Barack Obama designated a national monument last year.

The NPS had originally “approved and sponsored” the ceremony and had speakers scheduled to share remarks during it, but withdrew "suddenly" beforehand, LGBT activists who organized the event said in a statement.

“Organizers of the event were unexpectedly informed on Tuesday afternoon that the NPS is officially passing on their responsibilities of proprietor and caretaker of the nautical flagpole to the City of New York,” the release stated, adding that the agency said its speakers would “no longer be in attendance.”

“Since planning began this past summer, the NPS had been wholly cooperative,” Ken Kidd, a spokesperson for the organizers, said in a statement. “This abrupt turn-around, as well as the NPS distancing itself from this event, is more evidence of the Trump administration’s campaign to reduce LGBT people to second class American citizens.”

The event’s organizers “cite bureaucratic homophobia for the last-minute change in plans,” the release added.

After the ceremony on Wednesday, however, a representative for NPS said the agency did not withdraw its support for the event.

“What changed is… whether we would offer remarks during the event. We don’t always offer remarks in these types of circumstances,” said Joshua Laird, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, adding that there was some “confusion” over whether the agency would or wouldn’t have speakers.

“That in no way diminishes the fact that we supported the event,” he added.

NPS transferred maintenance of the flag and flag pole to the city’s Parks Department on Friday because news outlets were reporting that the ceremony would mark the first time a Pride flag would fly on federal property, which wasn’t “factually accurate,” as the Parks Department owns the flagpole, Laird said.

“I think what we did was rectify an ownership issue over the pole, but in a way that kept the flag flying, which was our goal,” Laird said.

“To say we were somehow withdrawing our support… it’s the nation’s first national monument dedicated to historic Stonewall and LGBT rights. It’s our arrowhead on the park dates, our rangers staffing the site," he explained. 

“It’s all important to us."

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department on Wednesday confirmed that the flagpole “is and always has been city property.”

But before last Friday, the National Park Service maintained the flags, she noted.

“Now the City will maintain both flags and flagpole, and keep the rainbow flag up,” she wrote in an email. “The City is proud to step in to carry the banner for LGBTQI rights following Friday’s transfer of the flagpole to City jurisdiction.”