Stonewall Inn in New York keeping fight for global equality ‘alive’, says owner

The bar is regarded as the ‘birthplace’ of the modern-day LGBT+ rights movement.

Hannah Cottrell
Wednesday 28 June 2023 00:01 BST
(The Stonewall Inn/PA)
(The Stonewall Inn/PA)

The co-owner of The Stonewall Inn in New York City said she and a group of people “saved history” when they purchased the LGBT+ bar where the Stonewall riots began.

June 28 marks the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous protests by members of the LGBT+ community in response to a police raid that began at 53 Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood.

The riots are widely considered to be the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement, and The Stonewall Inn is regarded as the “birthplace” of the modern-day LGBT+ rights movement.

Stacy Lentz, 53, co-owner of The Stonewall Inn and LGBT+ activist, was part of the group who purchased the site 17 years ago.

“In 2006, if we hadn’t stepped in and did this, it literally could have become a Starbucks”, Ms Lentz, from New York, told the PA news agency.

“We were up against, I think, a Starbucks, a jazz club, and one other business.

“So really being able to get a team together to do this, it was about saving history.

(The Stonewall Inn) is rooted in the community, and through our non-profit, we really use it as a vehicle to keep the fight that started there in 1969 alive and well, and fight for full global equality

The Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz

“And then also, you know, putting it back on the map again.

“In 2006, it really wasn’t on the map, it wasn’t being treated properly in terms of historical value, but it also wasn’t being used to keep that fight alive.”

While there were some other investors involved at the time, Ms Lentz explained that the group was now formed of Kurt Kelly, 63, the owner of The Stonewall Inn, as well as co-owners Bill Morgan and Tony DeCicco, who were involved with the team’s legal and financial aspects.

Ms Lentz said the group then formed their own non-profit, charitable organisation, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI), of which Ms Lentz was the chief executive and co-founder alongside Mr Kelly.

She said SIGBI funded grassroots organisations and activists across the world “in the toughest places where it’s still hard to be LGBTQ today in 2023”.

Through SIGBI, Ms Lentz said they were able to keep the legacy and history of the Stonewall riots alive.

“It (The Stonewall Inn) is rooted in the community, and through our non-profit, we really use it as a vehicle to keep the fight that started there in 1969 alive and well, and fight for full global equality,” she said.

“We like to say that we’re spreading the Stonewall legacy to the spaces, places and faces that need it the most.”

When asked about the Stonewall riots, Ms Lentz said there were “lots of myths about how it started or why it started” due to a lack of documentation at the time.

“If you had a photo of yourself taken in that bar, you would lose your family, you would lose your job, because you couldn’t be out, it was illegal,” Ms Lentz explained.

“If you were there, you probably didn’t want to say you were there until years later when you felt it was safe to say you were. So who can blame folks for not?”

She added: “There’s lots of myths of how it started or why it started and I don’t think we’ll probably ever know the truth on that.

“But the reality was, it was the whole community that came together, including straight allies that poured out into the street, that kept the protests going, that got the media’s attention, and that’s why Stonewall became Stonewall.”

When asked what The Stonewall Inn looked like today, Ms Lentz said: “The Stonewall Inn is the birthplace of the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement and it’s where Pride began, so we are bustling with non-stop events.”

Ms Lentz added that when they were not holding events, The Stonewall Inn was “pretty packed with people from all over the world”.

She said: “People come there to see the birthplace, to feel the history, to learn a little bit about the history, and have that drink as soon as they land at JFK.

“We like to say we’ve come 54 years, but we probably have another 54 years to go.”

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