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Gay artifacts subject of new museum collection in Missouri

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

ST. LOUIS — The Missouri History Museum is on the verge of the St. Louis region’s first mainstream collection of gay artifacts.

Kirkwood resident Steven Brawley’s collection will be a major component of the display, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Brawley has been collecting items such as drag queen dresses, leather vests, handwritten protest signs and Pride Parade T-shirts for six decades

Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

Sometimes things are happening right before our very eyes,” said museum curator Sharon Smith. She said the museum is tasked with tracking those events — regardless of their politics — and preserving them for generations to come.

“I almost don’t want to say this,” said Colin Murphy, editor of the Vital Voice, St. Louis’ gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazine. “But it feels like another barrier has been crossed, to have the Missouri History Museum embrace our stories.”

Similar efforts are beginning to take shape in other cities across the country.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a man’s book collection became the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, now one of the nation’s largest collections of gay history and literature. The GLBT History Museum in San Francisco had similar beginnings.

But interest from mainstream history museums is different, former Stonewall trustee Brian McNaught said. He said the Missouri History Museum’s interest means the museum now sees gay history as part of its own.

“When I came out, gay people were seen as monsters, who prowled playgrounds. Then they were diseased — if you sat next to one on an airplane, you’d get sick and die,” he said. Now, he said, gays are seen adopting children and starting families.

The change in perception has also seen mainstream museum exposure: An exhibit on everyday life in gay communities at the Chicago History Museum; a gay history trolley tour hosted by the Kansas City Museum. The annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in September included a session on the topic.

Some don’t support a tax-supported institution tracking the fight for gay rights.

“I don’t think it’s a good use of tax money at all,” said state Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, a Republican from Lake Saint Louis, who recently criticized tax benefits for gay couples.

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Brawley’s basement now holds several thousand items.

He has a handwritten poster from suburban St. Louis teacher Rodney Wilson’s 1994 classroom, urging in multicolored marker that parents support their gay children. Wilson came out to his class, and later started the national LGBT History Month.

A black bejeweled dress belonged to a drag queen who called himself Lady Charles, who wore it on stage in the 1970s — a time when the city’s “masquerading laws” made cross-dressing illegal.

“The youth is just starved for these stories,” Murphy said. “When they find out that you could be arrested for being in a drag show, they are outraged.”

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24 more reader comments:

  1. Cool.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:29pm
  2. OK

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:40pm
  3. Haw cool

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:41pm
  4. OMG! This is either going to be a very “vanilla/safe/VERY WHITE exhibit or it is going to be REALLY stupid and very sanitized. Gee ….. I guess I am not feeling the cultural optimism others are hoping for.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:41pm
  5. This is great news. There are other resources out there to discover – The Lesbian Herstory Archives and The History Project (GLBT Boston) are full of great stories.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:46pm
  6. Meghan Hickerson

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:47pm
  7. did they find ancient dildos or something? :o

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 6:05pm
  8. Are the artefacts themselves gay? Extraordinary!

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 6:19pm
  9. So hopeful that our history finds a good home. Tired of being marginalized by hetrosexual society.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 6:40pm
  10. And Dickinson College holds a growing collection of LGBT publications through the central PA LGBT Center’s History Project.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:01pm
  11. Wonderful! So much of our history has not been preserved. It is about time we did so.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:16pm
  12. Excellent :)

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:32pm
  13. What would it contain?

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:47pm
  14. That is one museum that we won’t be visiting. Sick!!

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8:13pm
  15. Fuck off you old bitty.

    Replied on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:09pm
  16. Why are people like this even subscribing to this page?? Aren't you missing mass somewhere or something?

    Replied on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:29pm
  17. Trolls will be trollin'!

    Replied on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:09pm
  18. Easy guys...Michelle hawker is probably one of "those" bible toting Christians! She likes fiction!

    Replied on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:10pm
  19. hey thanks shanna :)

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8:23pm
  20. I was wondering what happened to my dildo collection! Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve used them, but I never thought they would become artifacts! ;)

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:28pm
  21. Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:00pm
  22. i tak to wygląda? banda dzikusek aż się nie dobrze robi jak się na to patrzy!

    Replied on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:01pm
  23. Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:29pm
  24. Artefacts? Wtf? When in the hell are we going to be just members of the human race and not set apart from it?!?

    Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 11:24pm