May 29, 2015

The Site of a Perilous Quest

The Stonewall Inn in New York City is finally being recognized for its significance in the struggle for equality. (Photo courtesy of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.)
In the recent news coverage of the Islamist take-over of Palmyra, I felt that too much was being made of the ruin’s significance, and too little of the human suffering that was to follow. There is no doubt that place matters, but no one alive today remembers the life of Palmyra. We rely on historians and archeologists to explain its importance. These thoughts resurfaced today when I received a “breaking news” item from Andrew Berman, an acquaintance of mine who happens to be the director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Andrew was writing to announce that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee would finally be considering the Stonewall Inn as a site worthy of recognition—due in large part to GVSHP’s efforts. In his statement, Andrew said: “This is a long-overdue move to recognize the incredibly important role this site and the riots connected to it have in the struggle for LGBT rights in this country and worldwide.”

Unlike Palmyra, the bar has not stood for millennia, but it is a symbol that can be understood by any human being who has been cast as an outsider—and everyone engaged in the struggle for equality.  While buildings and monuments should be preserved as important reminders of great suffering, they should also evoke the ongoing quest for identity and acceptance. That long journey in the LGBT community began at Stonewall.