The 1974 poster of the first pride festival in Seattle, yellowing issues of Seattle Gay News and the neon sign of the legendary 611 gay bar: These are some of the objects that are displayed in MOHAI’s “Revealing Queer” exhibition, which focuses on the history of the Puget Sound LBGTQ community over the past 40 years.
“It’s a sad story in many ways but also a celebration of the people who have struggled, not just for themselves, but for everyone,” said Fia Gibbs, who attended the exhibit’s opening night.
“Revealing Queer” is a product of the Queering the Museum project, which was founded in 2011 by Erin Bailey, a recent graduate of the University of Washington (UW) Museology program, and Nicole Robert, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Washington department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies.
“We thought the museums didn’t do LBGTQ people justice,” said Bailey, who presented the idea of “Revealing Queer” to MOHAI and was hired as a contractor curator for the exhibition.
“MOHAI took a huge risk, but they trusted the project. This is the first time a regional museum in the area does an exhibition with this theme,” she said.
To create the exhibition, Bailey worked with a community advisory committee, consisting of people from 12 organizations within the LGBTQ community, a model that has previously been used by the Wing Luke Museum. The idea is to invite people with relevant life experiences to tell their stories. The committee met about once a month for more than a year.
Some of the objects in the exhibition were donated or lent out by individuals or organizations, while others come from MOHAI’s archives, the archives of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the UW libraries. The result is an exhibition covering themes like meeting spaces, celebrations, public policy changes and stories about individuals in the LGBTQ community.
One of the experiences represented is that of James Gaylord, a teacher at Wilson High School in Tacoma, who in 1972 was fired and faced charges of immorality because of his sexual orientation. Another is that of transgender activist Marsha Botzer, who, among many other accomplishments, helped found Equal Rights Washington and the Seattle LGBTQ Community Center.
“We want to show the breadth and diversity of queer people. We are parents, teachers, politicians and sometimes curators,” Bailey said.
The exhibit also touched on homelessness and economic vulnerability, featuring the story of Mexico-born civil rights advocate Jacque Larrainzar, who was kicked out of her home when she came out, as well as on the history of public policy concerning employment and housing discrimination.
By hosting “Revealing Queer,” MOHAI hopes to start conversations. As MOHAI marketing officer Lauren Semet put it, “We need LGBTQ people to be a part of the narrative when we talk about history.”