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Stonewall Survives The Pandemic And Celebrates Another Pride Month

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fifty-two years ago today, in the early morning hours, police raided a mafia-run bar serving LGBTQ New Yorkers. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police and secured their place in American history. President Barack Obama designated the area around it a national monument in 2016. The assault is considered the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. COVID almost closed the bar down last year, but people again gathered over the weekend to celebrate, and NPR's Ryan Benk was there.

(CHEERING)

RYAN BENK, BYLINE: The temperatures in New York City neared 90 degrees on Sunday, but after a year of COVID isolation, even the heat couldn't keep throngs of revelers from packing historic Greenwich Village for the city's Pride march.

BRENDAN PHELPS: Honestly, I was really shocked because a lot of people were saying that it was going to be virtual, virtual.

BENK: Brendan Phelps (ph) and his friends are standing down the street from the Stonewall. He says he can't imagine having Pride without it.

PHELPS: Beauty of having a bar that's been around for so long is the fact that it has history. So new generation, old generation - you will see a mixed crowd at that venue.

BENK: And that's what the bar was known for in 1969. An eclectic crowd across the LGBTQ spectrum is gathered here Sunday. That diversity is on full display in the line of people mushed together waiting to enter the Stonewall. People in the queue are decked out in rainbows, carrying trans flags or wearing other patterns identifying specific identities under the queer umbrella.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST FRIEND")

SAWEETIE AND DOJA CAT: (Singing) On the dance floor, she had two...

BENK: Once inside, the DJ's mix rattles the walls, and flocks of partiers flail and dance wildly. It's quite a contrast from a year ago, when the Stonewall's owners were issuing desperate pleas for donations to keep the doors open.

Outside and a couple blocks away, Jada Jada (ph) issues a brief thought on the Stonewall staying open.

JADA JADA: I love bars.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's (unintelligible).

JADA JADA: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Don't hurt (laughter).

JADA JADA: And - yeah. Keep it a bar...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

JADA JADA: ...Yeah - so we can go.

BENK: Jada's thoughts might have been short and in jest, but it's part of the core reason why Stonewall co-owner Stacy Lentz says it's important the inn stays a functioning bar.

STACY LENTZ: It really is the - you know, the gay church - a place where you come to mourn, a place where you come to celebrate.

BENK: Lentz, who identifies as lesbian, was approached by other investors in 2006. The bar then was in disrepair and again in danger of shuttering for good. She says she jumped at the chance to invest and return the inn to its former glory.

LENTZ: We didn't turn it into a museum, but you definitely get a feeling when you walk into the bar now of that significance in history.

BENK: Turning the space into a museum just wasn't really an option for the Stonewall's current owners. They set their sights on recreating what Stonewall might have looked like in 1969. Columbia University Professor George Chauncey studies gay history in New York. He says over the decades, Stonewall not only inspired Pride celebrations held in hundreds of cities every June...

GEORGE CHAUNCEY: It's been a place where people have come and gathered at critical moments.

BENK: Whether it was when a Miami gay rights law was repealed in 1977 or when a gunman perpetrated a massacre of mostly Latino LGBTQ people in 2016, Chauncey says Stonewall served as a gathering place for anger, protests and vigils.

CHAUNCEY: To be able to go in and just socialize, to have fun and to toast the iconic status of this place and the struggle that it represented is, I think, a wonderful thing.

BENK: For now and for the foreseeable future, the Stonewall Inn continues serving as what Chauncey calls a living monument. Ryan Benk, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND LIAM THOMAS'S "PEACE OF MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.