Federal government, activists hoist Rainbow Flag at Christopher Park

Rainbow flag FINALLY flies on Federal land at Stonewall Park.
Miss Simone (left) watches Shirley McKinney and Steven Love Menendez lift the Rainbow Flag up into the air at Christopher Park.
Donna Aceto

After years of advocacy spanning across two presidential administrations, LGBTQ activists and federal park officials joined together to raise a Rainbow Flag on federal property at Christopher Park on the first day of Pride Month.

Several advocates, speakers, and even entertainers were on hand for the much-anticipated ceremony to install a Rainbow Flag on a piece of federal land just steps away from the historic Stonewall Inn. Shirley McKinney, the supervisor of Manhattan Sites within the National Park Service, and Steven Love Menendez, who has been the caretaker of Rainbow Flags at Christopher Park, hoisted the Progress Pride Flag with the National Parks Department’s branding on a flagpole purchased by the federal government.

Rainbow Flag caretaker Steven Love Menendez.Donna Aceto

“The National Park Service is honored to have been asked to participate in the Rainbow Flag raising and permanent flagpole dedication ceremony,” McKinney told Gay City News in a written statement. “Our rangers are excited to tell the stories about the events that took place at this site and in the surrounding areas. We look forward to welcoming the community and visitors back now that we are in peak season, even during this historic pandemic.”

The campaign to bring a Rainbow Flag to federal land near Stonewall was years in the making. The National Park Service was set to dedicate a Rainbow Flag at the Stonewall National Monument in 2017 to mark National Coming Out Day, but those plans hit a snag when the Trump administration — known for opposing LGBTQ rights at every turn — scrapped the whole thing. The administration justified the about-face by arguing that the planned flagpole was on city property rather than federal land, forcing advocates to go back to the drawing board.

In the years that followed, Menendez and activist Michael Petrelis played leading roles in maintaining pressure on the federal government to follow through on the initial pledge.

Once President Joe Biden took office, the plan gained momentum yet again following correspondence between the activists and the Department of Interior. In the meantime, Menendez opted to plant his own flagpole in the park — and the new flag and flagpole was placed in the same location. While Rainbow Flags have already been flying at the park, this is the first time the federal government took the steps to place one on US-owned property.

“I waited until a democratic president was in office,” Petrelis said in his remarks. “And under Secretary Deb Haaland’s leadership, my request to fly the flag here in the park was granted. Thanks to Superintendent Shirley McKinney and flag caretaker Steven Love Menendez, the flagpole was quietly installed. They more than deserve our eternal gratitude. I also want to thank Gilbert Baker for creating the original six colors rainbow flag, a global symbol of liberation and solidarity. Without it, I would have nothing to wear!”

Activist Michael Petrelis was a key player in encouraging the Biden administration to install the permanent Rainbow Flag.Donna Aceto

Menendez said he was “flattered” when he learned that the federal government’s flag and flagpole would be positioned in the same place as his temporary installation.

“The permanent flag flying in the park serves as a symbol and reminder to honor all those that have fought for our rights, to give hope for the future, and to inspire new generations to carry the torch of equality and freedom,” said Menendez, who praised the Progress Pride Flag as a positive sign of inclusion given the historic marginalization of people of color and transgender and non-binary individuals in the LGBTQ community. “When you enter the park, I feel the flag says to all, ‘You are honored, celebrated, and loved!'”

Among the speakers at the event included Janis Stacey, who highlighted the land’s historic ties to the Lenape people.

“It was a great honor being invited as a trans identified indigenous Two-Spirit person to give the land acknowledgement for the LGBTQIA2S+ flag-raising at the Stonewall National Monument in New York to kick off Pride Month,” Stacey said in a written statement. “The great Lenape Chief Tamanend aspired toward harmony between the indigenous people and the descendants of the immigrants to this land. The Progress Pride Flag raised at the Stonewall National Monument symbolizes the aspiration of all the LGBTQIA2S+ communities to be living in harmony and for those communities to be living in harmony within the larger community as a whole. The future always brings new challenges, some large and some small, and we need to be living in harmony together to be as strong as possible for facing those challenges.

Tony award winner Lillias White performed “Over the Rainbow.”

Shirley McKinney, Tom Viola, and Lillias White at the ceremony.Donna Aceto
Activist and Gay USA co-host Ann Northrop. delivers remarks.Donna Aceto
Holding up the flag before it heads up the flagpole.Donna Aceto
Lillias White performs “Over the Rainbow.” Donna Aceto
Gay City News contributor and Gay USA co-host Andy Humm with Northrop, Viola, and Menendez.Donna Aceto
Advocates show support for the new flag at Christopher Park.Donna Aceto