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NY bar considered birthplace of US gay rights movement

The Stonewall Inn became an instant gay rights symbol when riots spontaneously erupted on 28 June 1969.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaks to the media in front of The Stonewall Inn announcing a new National Park Service initiative intended to identify places and events associated with the civil rights struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans on 30 May, 2014 in New York City. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK - The Stonewall Inn, a New York City bar widely recognised as the birthplace of the US gay rights movement, was granted historic landmark status by city officials on Tuesday.

The unanimous vote by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was hailed by gay activists and supporters of the designation who cheered and embraced in an emotional scene.

"This building is a symbol of a time when LGBT New Yorkers took a stand and vowed that they would no longer live in the shadows," said commission chair Meenakshi Srinivasan.

The Stonewall Inn became an instant gay rights symbol when riots spontaneously erupted on 28 June, 1969 following a police raid at the Greenwich Village tavern known for serving a gay clientele in an era of intolerance toward homosexuality.

The episode was later dubbed the "Stonewall Rebellion."

"The designation of the Stonewall Inn as an individual landmark represents one of the city's most powerful movements in our era to change the nation," Srinivasan said.

The bar remains an outpost of gay nightlife, easily recognisable by its red neon sign and rainbow flags that flutter above its storefront window and entrance. It is located in a two-story building with a red brick-and-stucco facade at 53 Christopher Street.

Jim Fouratt, 74, who said he participated in the protests, held back tears and said he struggled to contain his emotions after the commission's announcement, which he attended.

"I'm thrilled," Fouratt said. "I was a witness to that time and I'm a witness of today."

During an earlier hearing, representatives from more than two dozen gay rights and preservationist groups joined by elected officials testified in support of giving the building landmark status.

The Stonewall Inn is already part of the Greenwich Village Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but its new designation as a city landmark provides more stringent safeguards guiding any future alteration to the property.

It is the first time in the city's history that a building that is part of a historic district is simultaneously given the landmark status, said Landmarks Preservation Commission Damaris Olivo.

Commissioners also suggested that the designation on cultural rather than architectural grounds might mark a critical milestone in the commission's methods of choosing landmarks.

"This ain't a pretty building, it ain't a pretty piece of architecture," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire. But, he added, "This building represents so many things."

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