The plan to celebrate the rainbow flag flying over Stonewall National Monument was going smoothly. Then things got weird.
Activists had pressed for months to get the flag — a long-standing symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — hoisted atop the flagpole adjacent to the national monument that President Barack Obama designated last year to commemorate the LGBT civil rights movement. The National Park Service agreed to do it, providing a flag that went up Sept. 28, and it worked with activists to put on an event commemorating the act on Wednesday, which was also National Coming Out Day. NPS officials provided the federal permit free of charge, as well as power and a sound system for the rally, and the monument’s chief interpreter initially agreed to speak.
On Thursday, however, Newsweek ran a story calling the rainbow flag flying on federal land “a rainbow-colored triumph whose meaning is compounded by the shadow President Donald Trump’s administration has cast over LBGT rights.” One of the event’s organizers, Ken Kidd, criticized the Trump administration for rolling back several Obama-era protections for LGBT people, saying that when one examines the men and women Trump has chosen for his Cabinet, the “one thing they all consistently have in common is an anti-LGBT agenda.”
By Friday evening, according to Kidd, the NPS flag that had been flying alongside the rainbow flag was taken down “under the cover of darkness,” and a New York City Parks flag was raised in its place. The agency official who had offered to speak at the celebration, Barbara Applebaum, canceled, citing a scheduling conflict.
“Our contact with the National Park Service became strained,” Kidd said. “I got a call Saturday afternoon, while I was apple-picking.”
Joshua Laird, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, said in an interview Wednesday that Interior Department officials had made “an inquiry” late last week to his office to determine whether the rainbow flag would be the first one to fly on the grounds of a national monument. But NPS officials determined that the flagpole was on city property, rather than the 7.7-acre patch of land in Christopher Park that constitutes the monument itself.
“We did send mixed signals here, which was very unfortunate,” Laird said. “It became a much bigger deal than we ever expected.”
The monument — which ranks as the first national monument dedicated to gay rights — drew protests from conservatives when it was declared but ranked as a high priority for top Obama administration and New York federal, state and local officials.