Pro Bono

BigLaw firm was key in launching historic Stonewall project

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Park ranger placing pride flags

The Stonewall National Monument was created in 2016 but has not had a visitor center. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past few years, lawyers from international law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner have devoted thousands of pro bono hours to helping create the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, set to open June 28 in New York City. It will be the first LGBTQIA+ visitor center within the National Park Service.

James P. Colgate, a partner in BCLP’s New York office, says the project was significant as a “way to educate, change minds and build coalitions to help people understand the importance of LGBTQ rights issues.”

The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, leading to days of protests. The event has been called the Stonewall Riots, the Stonewall Uprising or the Stonewall Rebellion. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bestows the Stonewall Awards each year to honor recipients who have “effected real change” for LGBTQ+ rights and representation.

The visitor center has been built in the original Stonewall Inn at 51 Christopher Street, next to the current bar. Intended to serve as an educational resource on LGBTQ+ history and culture, the visitor center also will detail the history of the Stonewall Inn. Admission will be free of charge. National Park Service rangers will perform jobs including educating visitors about the history of the Stonewall Inn Riots.

Lawyers for BCLP have been working with Pride Live for years to create the visitor center. Pride Live was founded in 2012 and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We wanted to help with this project to create a venue that ensures that future generations remember the Stonewall Rebellion as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ equality movement,” says Colgate, who practices real estate law.

Woman and two men holding a shovel togetherDiana Rodriguez (center) of Pride Live attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center in 2022. She is flanked by Brian Smith, senior vice president of the New York Yankees, and Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Pride Live)

“With the visitor center’s opening on the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, this moment stands as a landmark achievement in American history and the ongoing fight for equality,” says Diana Rodriguez, chief executive and co-founder of Pride Live. “It also serves as a reminder that there is still much work to be done.”

The site of the visitor center was most recently a nail salon. Rodriguez says the pro bono legal help they received was “fundamental” to the project’s success.

Colgate’s specialty is planning and zoning, and he helped with permitting, negotiating the lease and resolving other related issues. Colgate also served as the point person across the practice groups as the firm gave Pride Live the assistance it needed. The legal work to help create the visitors center took more than four years, with at least 12 lawyers helping across the various practice groups, Colgate says.

In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the inn, Christopher Park and the surrounding streets and sidewalks as the Stonewall National Monument. Colgate says he felt driven to help Pride Live in its vision to create a welcoming visitor center.

Stonewall InnThe visitors center space has been constructed next door to the current Stonewall Inn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Daisy Reeves, Global Inclusion & Diversity Client Relationship Partner in BCLP’s London office, says it’s important to understand that the Stonewall Inn has global implications for the LGBTQ+ community.

“People all over the world look to the Stonewall Inn as a key to LGBTQ+ rights,” Reeves says.

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