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Stonewall's Pole Is Lightning Rod in Trump’s Attack on Rainbow Flags

Rainbow flags at Stonewall Inn
National Park Service

New emails show National Park Service leaders scrambling to get rid of the flag at the historic landmark.

Months after President Trump took office, his administration began distancing itself from flying a Pride flag at the Stonewall Inn. This included canceling a ceremony at the site and ultimately giving away the flag and the pole on which it flew.

President Obama designated the Greenwich Village gay bar as a national monument in 2016, citing its place in LGBTQ history. The significance of the locale is well documented on the National Park Service website, which describes the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 as a "milestone in the quest for LGBTQ civil rights."

But newly released emails, published by E&E News, show that just a year later, Trump administration officials balked at flying a Rainbow flag at the site, despite spending $66 on a 3-foot-by-5-foot flag.

After New York activists celebrated the flying of the iconic symbol at a national monument, Todd Willens, then assistant deputy secretary of the Interior, demanded an explanation. He ultimately ordered the flag removed five days ahead of a planned ceremony honoring its arrival.

The emails show Minerva Anderson, chief of communications for the National Parks of New York Harbor, scrambling to get together a statement on how the flag ended up flying on federal property.

"We've been requested by Region to provide a briefing statement about the decision process to fly the flag and how it all came about," she wrote.

Ultimately, officials in the email chain say the significance of the site makes the flying of the flag appropriate.

More notably, officials in NPS and in Interior formulated an argument that the flagpole in fact does not belong to the federal government. Ultimately, the park service quickly communicated with New York officials and made a hasty donation of the pole and all flags that fly there, including the recently purchased Pride flag.

While the federal government no longer owns the pole, it's located on Christopher Park, a 0.12-acre triangular space located just across the street from the Stonewall Inn. That puts it within the envelope of the monument area, which covers the grounds where the Stonewall uprising took place.

"We partner with N.Y. city parks to manage Christopher Park, so we gifted the flag to them. Oy vey," Anderson wrote.

Bob Vogel, acting director of operations for NPS, said he was instructed by Willens to give away every flag to the city except for the National Park Service flag. That included an American flag, a POW-MIA flag and the rainbow flag.

"Needless to say there is significant concern on how this will transpire with the community," Vogel wrote.

Michael Reynolds, then NPS acting director, went so far as to call potential disagreement with the LGBTQ community a "safety issue."

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, widely considered the starting point of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

Activists in New York told E&E News the revelations in the emails are alarming.

"The feds were washing their hands of the whole project -- it was crazy town; it was shocking," said activist Ken Kidd, who had worked with NPS officials on the planned 2017 ceremony celebrating the flag.

Emails to NPS show widespread frustration with the apparent reversal about federally sanctioning the flying of a flag. One citizen called the actions a "slap in the face" to the LGBTQ community. Another likened refusing the fly a rainbow flag at Stonewall to refusing to fly a MIA-POW flag at a military cemetery.

This isn't the only time the Trump administration has worked to disassociate itself from the rainbow flag. Trump earlier this year ordered that the flag could not be flown during Pride Month on flagpoles at embassies around the world, though many are doing so anyway.

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