President Biden, Elton John headline opening of Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center

President Joe Biden addresses the audience at the opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center.
President Joe Biden addresses the audience at the opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center.
Donna Aceto

Kicking off Pride weekend, President Joe Biden and famed singer Elton John joined LGBTQ leaders and allies under a tent near the Stonewall Inn on June 28 to mark the opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, a new space highlighting the legacy of the 1969 uprising and other moments in LGBTQ history through in-person and virtual tours, lectures, exhibitions, and a theater space.

The star-studded event — which also featured singer Katy Perry and a host of celebrities; Gov. Kathy Hochul; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; First Lady Jill Biden; and others — was held on the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and just two days before the annual New York City Pride March, which is held every year on the final Sunday of June.

Elton John and President Joe Biden.
Elton John and President Joe Biden.Donna Aceto

“Fifty-five years ago today on this hallowed ground, a pivotal story for our nation unfolded,” Biden said. “The soul of the nation was literally tested — that’s not hyperbole, the soul of the nation was tested — and the heart of this movement was ignited and the course of history was changed forever.”

The ceremony came less than 24 hours after a cringeworthy first presidential debate in Atlanta, where Biden was largely incoherent and struggled mightily against his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who hurled falsehoods to a national audience throughout the night.

While national headlines focused squarely on Biden’s debate performance — and whether he should even continue his bid for a second term — the president sought to turn the page when he helped usher in the new visitor center at 51 Christopher St. The center is adjacent to the current Stonewall Inn and in a space that formerly served as part of the bar at the time of the six-day rebellion in 1969 that is now known as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. 

The new center is a follow-up, of sorts, to the nearby Stonewall National Monument, which is located within Christopher Park and was designated in 2016 by former President Barack Obama as the first federal monument dedicated to the LGBTQ community. The new visitor center is a collaboration between the National Park Service and the non-profit organization Pride Live.

Encompassing 2,100 square feet, the new visitor center is the culmination of six years of work led in large part by Diana Rodriguez, Pride Live’s CEO, and Ann Marie Gothard, who is the vice president of Global Corporate Media Relations. The center’s inaugural executive director is Efrain Guerrero, who has more than a decade of experience working in leadership roles at Charter Schools, according to Pride Live’s website.

Cutting the ribbon on the new visitor center, which is next door to the Stonewall Inn.
Cutting the ribbon on the new visitor center, which is next door to the Stonewall Inn.Donna Aceto

The new center, Gothard said, serves to recognize “the rebels who started this journey 55 years ago.”

“It’s also a symbol of solidarity with LGBTQ+ youth growing up today who will always have a place they can come to and discover what our community is all about,” Gothard said. “As Cynthia Erivo sang so beautifully, home is a place where there’s love overflowing. So, we offer this gift to all generations of queer people: a home away from home.”

Biden, who had just arrived in New York from a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, praised the center’s key founders, Rodriguez and Gothard, as well as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who drew a standing ovation from the crowd during a speech of her own when she voiced strong support for the LGBTQ community and briefly mentioned her queer and non-binary child.

Speaking about the broader movement, Biden emphasized the growth of LGBTQ rights here and abroad as he pointed to the legacy of the Stonewall Uprising and the work of queer activists over many decades. Notably, Biden also pointed out the role of trans women of color in the fight for equality.

“You’d be amazed by the number of places I am, whether it’s India or other places, where people talk about the gay movement here in the United States of America,” Biden said. “I mean, you marked a turning point in civil rights in America.”

There was an upbeat tone throughout the afternoon. A long line of speakers stepped up to the podium, including Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson, who paid tribute to leaders such as Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie while also acknowledging the work of individuals who were in attendance at the event. 

Stonewall veteran Mark Segal, the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, reflected on his experience at the bar more than five decades ago when queer people sought refuge there in an otherwise hostile society. Segal was 18 when he left his hometown of Philadelphia for New York, where he found community at Stonewall.

“On the street, police might harass us,” he said. “You could be a victim of a hate crime. But inside Stonewall, an illegal, dirty, dingy bar that sold watered down drinks, we were safe. We were safe to be ourselves. This was the only place that a person like me could hold hands and dance.”

The first lady, meanwhile, said the center would serve as a key educational resource for future generations and for families seeking to learn more about the community. 

Equipped with his piano, Elton John closes out the event with a performance.
Equipped with his piano, Elton John closes out the event with a performance.Donna Aceto

“From today on, the visitor center and monument will tell these stories to the teenager who came here and discovers she isn’t alone, the activist who wants to show his children what came before, and all those who wish to learn from the wisdom of the past and use it to help chart the course of our future,” she said.

There was more of a national crowd in attendance under the tent, complete with celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Adam Lambert, as well as a visible corporate presence featuring partners like Google, which has provided financial support to the Stonewall National Monument for several years. But there were some out New York City lawmakers on hand, including State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Tony Simone, both of Manhattan, and Councilmember Erik Bottcher, also of Manhattan. Assemblymember Deborah Glick, the first out state lawmaker in New York, delivered remarks from the podium about the struggles of LGBTQ life in the past and the pressure individuals felt to come out. That kind of pressure, she said, helped to spark the Stonewall Uprising.

Former Brooklyn Nets player Jason Collins, who in 2013 became the first out gay NBA player, sat in the audience and spoke briefly with Gay City News before the ceremony started.

“I’m here to celebrate the opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center and I’m here to support the community,” Collins said. “I was here a couple years ago for the groundbreaking ceremony when there wasn’t a tent, it was outdoors, it was a very hot day, and I remember seeing Michael Kors melting in a black suit.”

Earlier in the afternoon there were performances by British singer and actress Cynthia Erivo, singer Johnny Manuel, and the Sing Harlem Choir. The event concluded with a surprise performance by Elton John, who returned to the stage with his piano to perform a series of songs to close out the afternoon. Earlier on, the 77-year-old British icon embraced the president and described the ceremony as one of the greatest honors of his life. 

Now open to the public, the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on Monday. Learn more at

Gov. Kathy Hochul opened the event.
Gov. Kathy Hochul opened the event.Donna Aceto
Former GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard with American LGBTQ+ Museum executive director Ben Garcia.
Former GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard with American LGBTQ+ Museum executive director Ben Garcia.Donna Aceto
Trailblazing trans athlete Chris Mosier.
Trailblazing trans athlete Chris Mosier.Donna Aceto
Cynthia Erivo performs.
Cynthia Erivo performs.Donna Aceto
Former NBA player Jason Collins.
Former NBA player Jason Collins.Donna Aceto
Adam Lambert looks on during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Adam Lambert looks on during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.Donna Aceto