The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington DC has added hundreds of photographs, papers, and historical objects to its collection to document the history of LGBT people in our country. Curators collected materials from LGBT political, sports, and cultural history, and they celebrated the new additions in a donation ceremony yesterday.
LGBT people have undeniably been a part of the country's history, but never before has there been such an extensive collection on display. Curator Katherine Ott told the Associated Press:
"There have always been gender non-conforming people in the U.S., and we've made contributions and lived life since the beginning of the country. It's not talked about and analyzed and understood in the critical ways in which it should be. So for us to build the collection means we can more fully document the history of this country."
Featured in the new collection are scripts and memorabilia from the popular NBC comedy show "Will and Grace," which began airing in 1998 and familiarized audiences with gay characters. Show creator David Kohan told the Associated Press:
"These particular guests that were invited into people's living rooms happened to be your gay friends. I don't think people really had the opportunity to have that before, and it served to, I think, make people recognize that your close friends were gay. The fact that it's in the American history (museum), maybe we were a part of something that was bigger than we ever imagined."
Also in the collection are issues of The Mattachine Review, a magazine published in Los Angeles that attracted a large gay and lesbian readership in the 1950s and 1960s.
As Katherine Ott notes, many items that already found their home in the museum in past years have come from historical figures who were thought or known to be LGBT. However, because LGBT history was never explicitly documented before, the curators had to sift through and interpret items that may be included in this new collection. For example, a tennis dress worn by Billie Jean King was in the museum's sports collection. If it weren't for her being outed in 1981, this dress would not carry with it a history of LGBT representation in professional sports.
Transgender advocate Monica Helms spoke at yesterday's ceremony. Helms created the transgender pride flag which was unveiled in 2000, and the original flag is featured in the collection. Helms said:
"This is a historical honor for all transgender and gender non-conforming people across our country. We have always been part of America’s history since the beginning, yet we have also been marginalized the entire time.
Now, the Smithsonian and the American Government are saying that our history is worthy of being displayed, along with that of our fellow Americans. The Transgender Pride Flag was created to give our community a unique symbol for us to show that we are proud of who we are. Not only have trans people in America embraced the flag, but trans communities in other parts of the world have also embraced it. If weren’t for them we would not be here today. The honor goes to the people of the world’s trans community. Transgender and gender non-conforming people of America are truly part of this country that we all love."
Among the additional items in the collection is a wooden tennis racket from transgender player Renee Richards who won a landmark New York Supreme Court decision for trans rights after being denied entry in the 1976 US Open. Additionally, visitors can see the diplomatic passports of Ambassador David Huebner, the first openly gay US ambassador confirmed by the senate, and his husband. There are also photography collections from Patsy Lynch and Silvia Ros documenting LGBT rights activism.
These items and more will live on forever at the museum to preserve the history of the LGBT movement, as well as honor today's LGBT culture.