The Missouri State Museum in the state Capitol on Nov. 30, 2021 (Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).
Nearly three months after being removed from the Missouri Capitol by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, an exhibit on the history of the LGTBQ movement will now be on display in several St. Louis locations.
Called “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” the exhibit documents the early days of LGBTQ activism in the state. It consists of banners, curated by University of Missouri-Kansas City history students, recounting the activism of the city’s LGBTQ community.
It was supposed to be on display in the Missouri State Museum in the state Capitol until Dec. 26. But it was removed within days of its installation in early September after some Republican lawmakers complained to the governor’s office.
With criticism of the removal mounting, the Parson administration announced shortly after the exhibit’s removal that it was being relocated down the street to a different building. Parson insisted the exhibit was only removed because its installation wasn’t approved by a board he sits on. Yet that board has never approved Capitol museum exhibits, and in two subsequent meetings has not discussed the Capitol museum at all.
The spot where the LGTBQ exhibit once stood in the Capitol remains empty.
A version of the LGBTQ exhibit will now be displayed at various locations around St. Louis from the end of November through early 2022. A handful of organizations — including Central Reform Congregation, Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis and Washington University Libraries — came together to bring the exhibit to St. Louis.
Charlie Brennan, a KMOX radio host helping lead the effort to bring the exhibit to St. Louis, said by displaying the exhibit “we are showing our support for the LGBTQ community in Kansas City and throughout Missouri.
“We also see great value in learning the history of Kansas City’s LGBTQ community through this exhibit,” Brennan said, “which is the result of serious academic scholarship at the UMKC.”
State Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said the irony of the situation is that because of the governor’s decision to remove the exhibit it has actually gotten more attention than it would have otherwise.
“There’s a silver lining to the story,” Razer said. “Those legislators and the governor didn’t want the history to be told. But now, so many more people have seen the exhibit or visited the website.”
A records request by The Independent shows two Republican lawmakers — Reps. Ann Kelley of Lamar and Patricia Pike of Adrian — contacted the governor’s office through email to complain about the exhibit in the days following its installation in the Capitol.
The day after the exhibit was removed, Connie Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, sent a text message to Kelli Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, to make her aware “of our moving gay rights exhibit from Capitol late yesterday.”
Patterson said the department notified the governor’s policy director, Kayla Hahn, before the exhibit was removed.
Within the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Capitol museum, emails show the removal sparked immediate pushback.
“This makes me profoundly sad,” Museum Director Tiffany Patterson wrote about the exhibit’s removal in an email to staff, first reported by the Kansas City Star.
“I remain committed,” she wrote, “to pushing the line forward so that we can tell authentic stories about all of Missouri’s people.”
Razer said he is still frustrated both by the exhibit’s removal and the lack of transparency by the governor as to the reason why.
“The pressure came from extremists on the far right, and the decision was made to remove it hoping it wouldn’t be noticed,” he said. “And when it was noticed, they had to quickly try to figure out some excuse. And the governor’s flimsy excuse is what they came up with.”
“Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” will be on display at the Cortex Innovation Community’s Civic Lounge starting Tuesday through Dec. 10; at the Gallery at the District Dec. 11 through Jan. 5; and in the Food Hall at City Foundry STL from Jan. 6 through Feb. 3.
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