Why Isn’t the Rainbow Flag Flying at the Stonewall National Monument?

The Rainbow Flag was raised high at the end of Christopher Street on June 14 to honor the late Gilbert Baker. | DANA DEVILLE

From the foot of historic Christopher Street to its head at the Stonewall National Monument, the LGBTQ Rainbow Flag should fly every day of the year.

In the week leading up to this year’s Gay Pride Day, I submitted a request to the New York City parks department and the National Park Service requesting that it fly on the flagstaff in Christopher Park, site of the new national monument designation, for our annual liberation march and celebration.

In the process, I was informed that while the parks department maintains the nautical flagpole — comprised of a center pole with two additional masts and three ropes from which to hoist between three and six flags — the National Park Service is the controlling government agency for the Stonewall National Monument where it sits.

PERSPECTIVE: An Activist's View

Out gay city parks spokesperson Sam Biederman, in a telephone chat, said he personally saw no reason why the rainbow colors should not fly on Pride Sunday and beyond but he needed to check with the Manhattan division of the agency to learn what the regulations are for flagpoles it controls. His promise to email a response to my request, from an appropriate staffer, has not been fulfilled.

I had better luck getting a response in writing from out lesbian Jamie Adams of the National Park Service, after a fruitful telephone conversation: “It was a pleasure speaking with you earlier today! I want you to know that we are currently working to address the flagpole issue at Stonewall National Monument. As of now, we are researching what can be done, but we have yet to find a written regulation for the flag pole. Rest assured, we are working to find a solution. I’ll let you know how things progress.”

Now, four weeks after receiving that note, the NPS has not communicated with me any further.

The current situation at the flagstaff is that four flags are displayed. From the top, the Stars and Stripes and the POW/ MIA memorial flags are on the center pole, with the New York State and NYC Parks flags on the sides. Three of the flags represent the government, and the POW/ MIA one is legally considered a private flag.

I’d like to learn why the flag for the military personnel occupies a spot on the nautical flagstaff and what number of prisoners of the Vietnam conflict, if any, are still believed to be held in captivity.

You can’t challenge a policy if you don’t have it in writing, and it’s unacceptable that local and federal parks agencies either can’t produce or haven’t created regulations for who decides how flags are displayed on a critically important piece of public land.

In an informal survey on my Facebook page and at the Rise and Resist page asking if folks agreed the rainbow stripes should be displayed at this location, a few commented that they thought that was already the case or wondered why there was even a question about approving a request to show our colors. Needless to say, no one disagreed with my idea.

I’d like to see our Rainbow Flag, so lovingly created and made into a global force for visibility and change by the late and dearly-missed Gilbert Baker, fly at the Stonewall National Monument all year. There can and should be a vigorous debate about flexible policies allowing the public to occasionally raise other flags and to lower the rainbow colors when we are in mourning.

The grassroots effort proposing the creation of a Baker-inspired monument at the foot of Christopher Street is one I wholly support.

The lack of transparency from public servants tasked with preserving and maintaining the entirety of the Stonewall Monument, one that is national in scope and therefore allows for queers like me in San Francisco and elsewhere to weigh in, mirrors to some degree the lack of public meetings and state government sunshine in creating Governor Andrew Cuomo’s LGBT Memorial commission that led to the selection of a design to be created in Hudson River Park.

That body was allergic to even a hint of transparency and operated in a closet, so to speak. Not healthy for any level of the body politic, that process should be cause for alarm about Cuomo’s apparent aversion to opening up our community’s effort to design a memorial honoring our struggles and our dead.

What is needed to immediately reclaim the Stonewall National Monument flagstaff are a few dedicated advocates to pressure both the city parks department and NPS to explain how we can hoist the Rainbow Flag all 365 days of the year.

Please make a respectful call to these numbers and ask that the agencies agree to display our Pride Flag: the parks department at 212-360-1311 and NPS at 212-668-2577.

If the POW/ MIA flag can fly year-round, we LGBTQ people should have equal access to the same public flagstaff and our spectrum of colors should proudly blow in the wind at Christopher Park every day.