LGBTQ activists and federal officials will join together to install a permanent Rainbow Flag in the garden at Christopher Park on June 1, concluding a years-long effort by activists who fought to bring the Rainbow Flag to a slice of federal land near the Stonewall Inn.
Activists and federal officials are planning to gather at the park at 1 p.m. on the first day of Pride Month for a long-awaited flag-raising ceremony during which the Progress Pride Flag will be raised on a new flagpole on federal property. National Park Service Superintendent Shirley McKinney and activist Steven Love Menendez — who has maintained a temporary Rainbow Flagpole in the same area — will lead the flag up for the first time. Both the temporary flag and the upcoming flag feature National Parks Department branding.
Longtime LGBTQ activist Ann Northrop will host the ceremony on June 1. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has been invited to serve as the keynote speaker and is expected to join if she can fit the event into her schedule, organizers said. A press release also praised the support of Tom Viola and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and noted that a singer could show up at the event.
In 2017, the Trump administration nixed plans for the National Park Service to dedicate a Rainbow Flag at the Stonewall National Monument by insisting that the site of the flagpole was on city land, not federal land. That same year, activist Michael Petrelis started reaching out to the Department of Interior to ask about installing a Rainbow Flag on federal land in the park.
Menendez wound up taking matters into his own hands when he installed a Rainbow Flag on federal land at the park. Menendez took the lead on caring for the flag and even re-applied for a permit every month to keep it there.
While the Trump administration was not helpful, activists tried again when President Joe Biden took office. The new administration ended up giving them assurances that a new flagpole and flag would be forthcoming.
The federal government opted to plant the permanent flag in the same place as the temporary flagpole.
“I’m very ecstatic because that flagpole ended up there through activism,” Menendez said in a phone interview with Gay City News.
Shirley McKinney, who is the superintendent of Manhattan Sites within the National Parks Service, told Gay City News that the new flagpole — which was installed last December — cost $5,500 and was funded by the National Parks Foundation. It is made of steel and brick and was designed to match the historic iron wrought fence along the park’s perimeter.
“They listened and decided to mirror what was done before,” Menendez said.
The new development represents a symbolic step forward for activists who have underscored their desire to see the Rainbow Flag on federal land. The flag is also symbolic to the countless visitors who have flocked to the area — and Menendez has witnessed its emotional impact.
“I’ve had moments where I’ve spoken to young trans people who cried in the park while taking pictures of the flag,” Menendez said. “They were saying how important it was for them. One trans person from Texas said they have nothing like this.”