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Smithsonian adding to documentation of America’s gay rights history

August 26, 2014 - 12:05am

BALTIMORE — As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s ongoing project to document America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, “gay pride emphera” from Baltimore is being added to the collection.

Old photographs, newspapers and other archival items from a city community center gathered over the last half-century have been accepted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The GLBT collection is part of the museum’s “mission to document the full breadth of the American experience,” it said in announcing several new additions it will be accepting, including the original transgender pride flag and show scripts and other correspondence from the creators of the popular and long-running NBC sitcom “Will & Grace.”

“The pursuit of civil rights in America is woven throughout our history,” said John Gray, the museum’s director, in a statement. “It is a tale of struggle and accomplishment as the nation strives to fulfill its ideals. We are grateful to our donors for assisting us to fulfill our mission to help the public understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.”

Dan McEvily, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, said it is “thrilling” to see the organization’s history become part of the storied collection of the Smithsonian.

The museum’s total collection includes more than 3 million objects from across the American experience, including items that explore “the infinite richness and complexity of American history,” according to the museum. Its LGBT collection dates back to the 19th Century, and includes materials from the early gay rights movement as well as from groups that oppose gay rights — including the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.

The museum is located near the Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue in northwest Washington. Its LGBT collection has been displayed to commemorate various occasions, including anniversaries of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City against police harassment, which are widely considered to be a jumping-off point for broader gay rights activism in the country.

Kelly Neel, the Baltimore center’s acting executive director, was scheduled to sign a deed of gift at a recent ceremony with other donors. Also scheduled to be in attendance were Monica Helms, the creater of the transgender pride flag; and David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the creators of “Will & Grace.”

Also in attendance were David Huebner and his spouse Duane McWaine were to be in attendance. Huebner is the former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and was the first openly gay ambassador in the Obama administration. The couple are donating their diplomatic passports and other items to the museum’s collection.

The Baltimore center first began the process of preserving its archives in 2012, as it prepared to move out of its longtime home in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore. At the time, its records were in disarray in the attic. An archives committee was formed, and the group began cataloging items, including back issues of what is now its Gay Life newspaper.

The GLCCB eventually brokered a deal to store and begin properly itemizing its archives at the University of Baltimore’s Langsdale Library, focusing the collection on Baltimore-centric items and history.

The items going to the Smithsonian are either duplicates of what can be found at UB, or are items that aren’t specifically relevant to Baltimore but are still historically significant within the nation’s broader LGBT scope, McEvily said, such as early advertising and organizational materials from the National Association of LGBT Community Centers.

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