Federal Government Plans Permanent Rainbow Flag at Christopher Park

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Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn and home to the Stonewall National Monument, is festooned with Rainbow Flags.
Donna Aceto

Four years after the Trump administration abruptly nixed plans to bring a Rainbow Flag to federal land adjacent to Christopher Park, the Biden administration is planning to install a permanent flagpole at the park — and the colors of the rainbow will be on full display day and night on US property.

The fresh development follows the Trump administration’s decision in 2017 to cancel the National Park Service’s intentions to dedicate a Rainbow Flag at the Stonewall National Monument in commemoration of National Coming Out Day. While it was believed that flagpole — located just outside of the park’s fence — stood on the portion of the Stonewall National Monument owned by the federal government, the Trump administration rejected that notion, saying instead that it would not raise such a flag because the pole was not on federal land. That move that was widely viewed as yet another act of hostility by an administration that relentlessly targeted LGBTQ rights.

The existing flagpole at the Stonewall National Monument, just outside of the fence at Christopher Park.

Longtime LGBTQ activist Michael Petrelis, who spearheaded the 2017 effort to bring the Rainbow Flag to federal land at the Stonewall National Monument, went back to the drawing board this year when he saw a potential window of opportunity in a new administration. He delivered a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — who has a non-binary child — asking the federal government to reclaim the land under the original flagpole and raise a permanent Rainbow Flag on federal property once and for all.

Steven Love Menendez installs a flagpole at Christopher Park in 2020.Donna Aceto

In response, the Department of Interior’s National Park Service continued to insist that the original flagpole is still not on federal land — it is now considered city-owned land — but nonetheless committed to bringing a new, permanent flagpole to host the Rainbow Flag within the confines of Christopher Park on US property. The flagpole will replace a separate, temporary flagpole that was recently installed.

“This new flagpole will be permanently located front and center in the beautiful gardens inside Christopher Park,” Gay Vietzke, the regional director for the National Park Service, wrote in a letter to Petrelis. The National Park Foundation will be donating funds toward the flagpole’s installation.

Shirley McKinney, the Manhattan Sites superintendent for the National Park Service, told Gay City News there is not yet a timetable for the flagpole’s installation because it first must go through obligatory procedural hurdles. She said it is possible that the existing flag waving at the temporary flagpole, which has a Stonewall National Monument insignia, could be shifted to the new pole — or a new flag might be ordered.

“It’s a little bit early,” McKinney said. “We have a contractor selected, but we are just starting the process. We are proud to be able to fly the Pride Flag on federal property inside Christopher Park, where it matters to the community.”

Petrelis said he is satisfied with the government’s commitment — even if the flag won’t be exactly where he asked it to be.

“I’m ecstatic that the rainbow flag will fly 24/7 on federal property that is part of the Stonewall National Monument,” he said. “I was happy that the Rainbow Flag was flying on the Greenwich Village flagpole… but it was not federal property, and that was my ultimate goal.”

LGBTQ activist Steven Love Menendez, who has placed Rainbow Flags along the park’s wrought iron fence during Pride Month, said he found out about the plans for the permanent flagpole in June. He led efforts to bring a temporary flagpole to the park and has been re-applying for monthly permits to keep it up. He was informed that the permanent flagpole would be placed where the temporary pole is located.

“I think it’s perfect because it’s exactly where I put it up,” Menendez told Gay City News. “I was flattered.”

Michael Petrelis speaks during a 2019 rally on the anniversary of ACT UP’s Stop the church protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Petrelis would like to see the new flagpole installed on National Coming Out Day, October 11, though the federal government’s comments seem to suggest the installation could take time. Petrelis hopes the government will allow the community to periodically rotate the flag to include other flags within the community, including the Progress Pride Flag, the Transgender Flag, and the Bear Pride Flag.

“I want community control of an evolving display of flags from that flagpole,” Petrelis said.