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‘Gateway To Pride’ Exhibit Seeks More Details About LGBTQ History In St. Louis

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St. Louis LGBT History Project
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Missouri Historical Society Collections
Rainbow St. Louis flag with signatures from 2012 PrideFest at Tower Grove Park.

The Missouri Historical Society has a major project underway to document and preserve aspects of LGBTQ history in St. Louis. To help prepare for a special exhibition on the LGBTQ community that will open in 2024, the Missouri History Museum is first presenting a virtual exhibit, which launched Thursday, to kick-start the effort.

Titled “Gateway to Pride,” the initiative includes oral narratives and artifacts that tell the story of the lesser-told contributions of LGBTQ St. Louisans throughout the city’s history.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske explored the project in conversation with Sharon Smith, curator of civic and personal identity and content lead on the “Gateway to Pride” exhibit. Historian Steven Brawley, founder of the St. Louis LGBT History Project, also joined the discussion.

The museum is using the virtual exhibit to encourage St. Louisans to contribute any stories and artifacts they have that can expand the narrative. Contributions can run the gamut: posters, photography, flyers, oral histories, letters, trophies and clothing are all examples of what people can share.

Brawley shared one of his own favorite artifacts: a poster donated by former Melville teacher Rodney Wilson, who received national attention in the ’90s after coming out as gay to his students. The poster was made by one of Wilson’s students and was a re-creation of a March on Washington poster.

“It was very brave of him. He is also credited as the founder of what we now know is LGBTQIA History Month in October; he was the force behind that initiative. And so it connects lots of stories: Education and social justice, lots of different stories go into this very simple, homemade poster that a student made back in the ’90s here in St. Louis,” Brawley explained.

Documenting LGBTQ history has its own set of challenges due to the nature of how such activities were identified.

“This is a community where often people's identity needs to remain hidden in some fashion, especially over the years. And so we have to be really careful about how we tell stories, how we ask about stories,” Smith explained. “It's not always been easy to do the research because [the] terminology has changed over the years. And you went from being called a sexual deviant, to a homosexual, to now we use all of the letters of the alphabet to include everybody's way that they identify. And so that has been hard, and then just trying to get into those communities and find the people who have a story to tell, or want to tell a story.”

Related event

What: “Gateway to Pride” virtual exhibit
When: Now through Oct. 31, 2022
Where: Online

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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