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Sharing LGBTQ+ History in Missouri

Washington University Libraries are proud to host the traveling pop-up exhibit Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights, on display in the lobby of John M. Olin Library, March 1 to April 1, 2022. 

This award-winning exhibit, created in 2016 by public history students at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, “explores the activism of gays and lesbians in the decades before Stonewall, including Kansas City’s surprisingly pivotal role in helping to launch America’s gay rights movement.”

Along with the physical display, a companion digital site is also available: UMKC’s Making History and the Rise of Gay Rights.

In 2018 the display received the National Council on Public History Student Award, and through 2021 it was shown across western Missouri at public libraries, community centers, and schools. 

The exhibition traveled to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City in August 2021, where it was scheduled to be on display till the end of the year. However, complaints to Governor Mike Parson’s office resulted in its removal from the Capitol after just a few days.    

Many organizations and individuals spoke out against this attempt to censor and suppress LGBTQ+ history in Missouri. Charlie Brennan, a KMOX radio host, led efforts in St. Louis to support the exhibit organizers. With help from the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, a St. Louis tour was organized, opening at the Cortex in December 2021.   

In fall 2021 Dr. Chris Cantwell and Kate Carpenter, two of the exhibition curators, joined Christopher Leitch (co-founder of Gay and Lesbian Archives of Mid-America), Sharon Smith (Curator of Civic and Personal Identity, Missouri Historical Society), and Miranda Rectenwald (Curator of Local History, Washington University) for an online discussion, Where Do We Go From Here, hosted by the Missouri Association of Archives and Museums. 

“History is a human right,” noted Rodney Wilson at an online panel discussion, sponsored by the American LGBTQ Museum in February 2022, in response to the cancellation of the exhibition. A Missouri teacher and founder of LGBTQ+ History Month, Wilson joined representatives from History UnErased, the LGBTQ+ American Museum, and Missouri State Senator Greg Razer for the program In Fear of History: Canceling Gay History in the Missouri State Capital.

Washington University Libraries is among many St. Louis area organizations to host the traveling display across the eastern side of the state throughout 2022.    

Groups interested in hosting this traveling pop-up exhibition should contact Cheryl Adelstein at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis at (314) 442-3872.