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Vice President Kamala Harris makes a surprise visit to NYC's Stonewall Inn

The historic Manhattan gay bar was the site of a 1969 uprising that’s widely considered a turning point in the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
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Vice President Kamala Harris made a surprise appearance at New York City’s historic Stonewall Inn on Monday to commemorate LGBTQ Pride Month.

Harris’ appearance marked the first time that a sitting vice president visited the space, the site of the 1969 June uprising that is largely credited as a turning point in the modern gay rights movement. 

“This place represents a real inflection moment in this movement, which is a movement that is about equality, that is about freedom, a  movement that is about safety,” Harris told reporters just outside the entrance to the Stonewall Inn. “I’m here because I also understand not only what we should celebrate, in terms of those fighters that fought for fundamental freedoms, but understanding that this fight is not over.”

Located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, the Stonewall Inn has long served as the de facto headquarters for the nation’s queer activists. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated Stonewall a national monument, making it the country’s first national monument honoring LGBTQ rights. And in 2019, while he was a presidential candidate, President Joe Biden visited the venue during Pride Month.

The vice president’s surprise visit to the Stonewall National Monument — which includes the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park and the surrounding area — comes at a precarious time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the United States.

Vice President Kamala Harris at the Stonewall National Monument in New York on Monday.
Vice President Kamala Harris at the Stonewall National Monument in New York on Monday.Matt Lavietes / NBC News

So far this year, there have been more than 490 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, according to a tally by the American Civil Liberties Union, with conservative lawmakers successfully enacting laws to curtail LGBTQ issues being taught in schools, drag performances and transition-related health care, among other things.

While some courts have recently declared a handful of the newly passed laws unconstitutional — including an anti-drag measure in Tennessee and an Arkansas law that would have barred the state’s minors from receiving transition-related care — many of the measures enacted this year remain in place. 

Harris addressed the record wave of legislation both outside the bar as she took questions from reporters and inside the bar, as she spoke with Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly and openly gay TV host Andy Cohen, who works for Bravo, which is owned by NBC News’ parent company, NBCUniversal. 

Vice President Kamala Harris inside Stonewall in New York on Monday.
Vice President Kamala Harris inside Stonewall Inn with co-owner Kurt Kelly, right, and Andy Cohen in New York on Monday.Matt Lavietes / NBC News

“We can take nothing for granted in terms of the progress we achieve. We have to be vigilant. We understand that’s the nature of our fight for equality,” Harris told Kelly and Cohen in a conversation that was held in front of reporters. “We’re not going to throw up our hands; we’re going to roll up our sleeves.”

Harris’ remarks also coincide with a surge in threats and attacks of violence targeted at LGBTQ Americans. A report from the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, released last week, found that more than 350 anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents occurred in the U.S. over an 11-month period starting June 2022. Also released last week, a report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a nonprofit that studies extremism, found that between June 1, 2022, and May 20, 2023, there were more than 200 instances of protests, threats and acts of violence directed at drag events and performers of drag, an art form with deep ties to the queer community.

The Stonewall National Monument itself has faced anti-LGBTQ demonstrations in recent weeks. Police are investigating three separate incidents of vandals tearing down and breaking dozens of Pride flags at the historical site.

In the face of anti-LGBTQ legislation and threats of violence toward gay and trans Americans, the Biden administration has taken several steps to push back. 

During Pride Month last year, the president signed an executive order that directed federal agencies to expand access to transition-related care and increase LGBTQ inclusivity in American schools. The order also curbed funding for the debunked practice of “conversion therapy.” 

Biden also signed legislation in December to codify federal protections for same-sex marriages, and his administration has consistently urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, legislation that would federally prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans. 

The Biden administration has also rebutted anti-LGBTQ efforts in more modest ways, by voicing its support for the community, as Harris did at Stonewall on Monday, and advancing LGBTQ people to historic leadership positions.

Vice President Kamala Harris outside Stonewall on Monday, June 26, 2023.
Vice President Kamala Harris outside Stonewall on Monday.Jay Valle / NBC News

Since taking office in 2021, Biden has hosted large Pride events during the month of June and has adorned the White House with rainbow flags. In 2021, Harris also became the first sitting vice president to participate in a Pride parade, when she marched in Washington, D.C.’s annual Pride celebration that year. And when the Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary in 2021, the administration became the first to have an openly gay person in a Cabinet post.

At the conclusion of her remarks Monday, which occurred just outside the Stonewall Inn’s entrance, Harris said the fight against anti-LGBTQ legislation and threats is “a fight about our foundational principles as a nation.”

“Fighting with pride is about being a patriot, about loving our country, believing in the promise and ideals of our country, and fighting to make them real for all people every day,” Harris said. “So that’s why I’m here today: to celebrate those who stood 54 years ago with such courage and determination and the inspiration that they gave this movement that continues today.”