28 • JUNE 28, 2019 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Stonewall Inn’s owners look back while moving forward LGBTQ landmark continues to evolve 50 years later By MARIAH COOPER
The modern Stonewall Inn is about half the size of the original bar and was last sold in 2006.
Open the front door to the Stonewall Inn today and you’ll find LGBTQ people from every walk of life. Locals and tourists alike gather for reasons as diverse as they are. Some patrons want to see the worldfamous Stonewall Inn; others pop in for a cocktail and the rest simply want to hang out in a gay bar. Among the crowd, you may even spot a famous face. Taylor Swift recently performed at Stonewall Inn; Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden came by to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots; and Madonna surprised fans with a New Year’s Eve performance at the historic bar in 2019. Co-owners Kurt Kelly and Stacy Lentz gave birth to this modern-day Stonewall Inn when they purchased it in 2006. Kelly, who is gay, felt that the Stonewall Inn had lost its connection with the LGBTQ community. He and a group of investors decided to purchase the property and brought investor Lentz, a lesbian community activist, on board as co-owner. It was the first bar Kelly and Lentz had ever owned but they were ready to return the Stonewall Inn to its LGBTQ roots. The original Stonewall Inn was a Mafia-owned bar located on 51–53 Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. “The Mafia bought up a lot of the gay bars because they saw money involved in there. They saw money in those spaces because gay people would go there and spend a lot of money,” Kelly says. Police raids were common for gay bars during that time and one such routine raid would make history on June 28, 1969 when bar patrons resisted arrest. The Stonewall Riots sparked a movement one year later when the first-ever Pride march was organized to commemorate the event. The march route stretched from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park. Shortly after the riots, the Stonewall Inn shut down. Over the years, it was converted into a bagel shop, a deli and a shoe store before reopening as a bar at 51 Christopher Street from 1987 before shuttering in 1989. The 53 Christopher Street location reopened as a bar in 1990 as New Jimmy’s but the name was changed to Stonewall a year later. Kelly, Lentz and their group of investors purchased the space at 53 Christopher Street making the new Stonewall Inn half the size of the original bar. Today, the Stonewall Inn is recognized as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument, which includes Stonewall Inn and Christopher Street Park, located across the street from the bar. The Stonewall National Monument became the first national monument marking an LGBTQ designated site. “I think it was incredible for the entire community, not just the owners of the bar, to have that recognized as telling us the fabric of American LGBTQ history is really important. The Parks Department and the national monument really can do that. We were super, super excited and it was an incredible moment for our entire community,” Lentz says. “It’s just extremely important for the LGBTQ community to have Stonewall, the birthplace, recognized as a national monument. Now it’s as famous as the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon.” The Stonewall Inn has also become known for its LGBTQ advocacy in recent years. In 2013, Lentz helped organize 80 non-profits for a rally outside of the Stonewall Inn in support of marriage rights. After the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, the outside of the Stonewall Inn became a memorial for the victims. The outside of the bar has also been the site of protests against the Trump administration. Lentz decided to make Stonewall’s advocacy work more official in 2017. She spearheaded the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, a non-profit organization working toward LGBTQ equality in the United States. “We wanted to focus on places all over the country where equality has been slow to arrive. So a lot of that emphasis is on the 28 states where you can still be fired for being LGBTQ. They like to say you can get married on Friday and fired on a Monday. Legally, they don’t have the same options that we have and those places also have that daily stigma because of the prejudice of the communities around them,” Lentz says. As World Pride draws near, Kelly and Lentz say they’re prepping for the momentous occasion. “We’re planning to keep the doors open. We’re the epicenter. We’re at ground zero. We just have to make sure all the beer is there and the liquor is there for everyone to enjoy,” Kelly says. The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots has drawn more attention to the iconic bar and Kelly and Lentz hope that people will remember just how instrumental the Stonewall Inn was to the LGBTQ rights movement. “That’s where Pride began and that’s where Pride lives,” Kelly says. For Lentz, it’s also a conversation that needs to keep going. “What happened there in 1969, the brave men and women that started that fight, is not over. We have to honor that and all continue to vow to work and keep going until we have full equality and that’s what we all have to do together,” Lentz says. For more information on the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, visit stonewallinitiative.org.
Losangelesblade.com, Volume 3, Issue 26, June 28, 2019