Stonewall Inn, the iconic site of the 1969 riots, may be forced to close

The site of the historic uprising that launched the gay rights movement, has been closed since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Alexander Kacala

The uprising that took place at The Stonewall Inn 51 years ago this week was the spark that set off a powder keg, paving the way for acceptance and equality of gay, lesbian and transgender people in the United States and around the world.

Coined as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, Stonewall, in New York City's West Village neighborhood, has operated as both a bar, serving as an oasis where revelers and tourists can celebrate (especially during Pride month in June) and an iconic site. The space was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

Now the coronavirus pandemic, which has already shuttered thousands of restaurants and bars across the country, is threatening to permanently close the legendary bar.

In this historic photo, a crowd tries to impede police arrests outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village. NY Daily News via Getty Images

The Stonewall Inn, which has been owned by Kurt Kelly and Stacy Lentz since 2006, has been shuttered for more than three months. On June 13, they started a GoFundMe page.

"We are reaching out because like many families and small businesses around the world," the owner's GoFundMe page reads. "The Stonewall Inn is struggling."

"Our doors have been closed for over three months to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of patrons, staff and the community. Even in the best of times it can be difficult to survive as a small business and we now face an uncertain future. Even once we reopen, it will likely be under greatly restricted conditions limiting our business activities," the statement continues.

While Stonewall may be the poster child for economic hardships in the age of COVID-19, Lentz explained that many LGBTQ bars across the country are facing similar challenges.

"We realize that being Stonewall we have a responsibility to make sure everyone is aware and we use our platform to explain that this is not just Stonewall having these issues right now," she told TODAY. "This is every LGBTQ bar across the country and especially here in New York."

In this archival photo, AIDS activists protest during the dedication ceremony of Stonewall Place on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, on June 6, 1989. Erica Berger / Newsday via Getty Images

Lesbian bars, already struggling to stay open before coronavirus, have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. One of New York's last Black-owned LGBTQ bars, Harlem’s Alibi Lounge, is in danger of closing permanently. And just down the street from Stonewall, another historic watering hole, Julius, has also launched a GoFundMe asking for emergency aid. Stonewall, which is adjacent to the national park Stonewall National Monument, does not receive any funds from the government.

"These bars are our safe spaces," Lentz said. "This is where generations after generations of LGBTQ people gathered. Our movement literally started at a bar, at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. So these are the places where our activism is born from.

"These are the places where we can congregate together and find people like us. It's so critical, after everything we have gone through."

People walk by the Stonewall Inn, an iconic bar for the LGBTQ community around the world, on June 25, 2020 in New York City. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

While Stonewall has been able to serve drinks from a window recently, Lentz said that this offering is not enough to cover the cost of the bar's $45,000 month rental bill. Fortunately, the bar has raised much more than its initial ask of $100,000, earning over $170,000 by Friday afternoon.

Still, Lentz said that every bit they get can help ensure the bar will be able to get through this devastating time for the industry — and be able to reopen safely when possible.

"The fact that a virus and pandemic could put all our safe spaces in jeopardy is unbelievable," Lentz said. "We have to do a better job at protecting those safe spaces. And it does sort of start with Stonewall. We cannot let the global symbol of the LGBTQ community just be a plaque on the wall.

"It needs to stay a living breathing piece of history."