The National Park System Opened Its First LGBTQ Center—in the Most Fitting Place

Gay rights got a big boost after the riots at the Stonewall Inn in NYC’s Greenwich Village. The little bar will make history again this month, when it opens the first LGBTQ visitor center in the National Park System.

Exterior of the Stonewall, 2018, with large rainbow flag above brick arches

The Stonewall National Monument was officially designated by President Obama in 2016.

Photo by Massimo Selesi_Shutterstock

What happened at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, was the spark of a revolution. That weekend, the police raid that led to the Stonewall Uprising triggered a global movement for LGBTQ rights that continues to this day. Exactly 55 years later, on June 28, 2024, the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will open its doors on that same site at 51 Christopher Street for individuals to better understand this seminal moment and connect it to the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.

Social activist and author Mark Segal still vividly remembers the events of that weekend, which he attended as an 18-year-old. “Stonewall was the only place in New York where we could dance,” he recounts. “If a bar served liquor to a homosexual, they would lose their license. I was there when the police closed the doors to the bar. They started destroying the bar . . . they threw bottles . . . they pushed people up against the wall. I’d never seen anything like that. We were frightened, we were scared. Then we fought back.”

Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center is the first LGBTQ Visitor Center within the National Park Service (NPS). It accompanies the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s West Village neighborhood, which includes the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park.

Diana Rodriguez, founder of an advocacy nonprofit called Pride Live, began preliminary conversations with the NPS in 2016. When the bar’s original location became available for rent (next to the currently operating Stonewall Inn, a separate entity at 53 Christopher Street), Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity to reclaim the historic space for the community. Since then, Rodriguez has raised $3.2 million for the 2,100-square-foot center with the support of major corporations and private donors. Celebrities, including Adam Lambert, Christina Aguilera, and Chelsea Clinton, have also helped bring awareness to the project.

The Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center joins the U.S. National Parks destinations lineup with a unique NPS passport stamp—and rangers have actually been stationed here for a while. “It’s neat when someone comes in from out of town and gets to speak directly with a National Park Service ranger about Stonewall,” Rodriguez says.

I visited the space with Mark Segal in May before it opened to the public. Upon entering, I first noticed elements that have been restored from the bar, including a portion of the original brick wall and a detailed recreation of the ceiling. Segal was immediately transported. “I touch the brick wall and I’m getting chills,” he told me. “I’m 18 again.”

The center’s permanent exhibit will feature interactive video panels recounting the riot and the LGBTQ rights movement, as well as a jukebox playing vinyl records of music from the late 1960s (curated by queer DJ Honey Dijon). A cozy theater space in the back will screen a brief documentary and will be used for community events.

Visitors can also experience an augmented reality activation that honors trans individuals who were present during the Uprising. “Trans members of the community won’t just be mentioned but will be celebrated,” Rodriguez says.

Ross Levi, executive director of the New York State Division of Tourism, notes that the new center “is a significant part of New York’s history and a very significant part of American history.” The one-year anniversary of the riot, he said, was the first Pride March. Segal beams. “When you see millions of people marching or protesting for pride,” he said, “that’s the history of this building.”

Plan your visit

Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center will open on June 28, 2024. The Center’s website lists hours of operation and admission details. Entry is free and open to all ages. For the first few months, reservations are required to visit the space. You can make your reservation here.

Zach Laks is a freelance travel writer and editor who loves theme parks, cruises, and resorts. His work has been featured in the New York Times, The Points Guy, Lonely Planet, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Departures, CNN, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s.
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