LGBTQ+ history is a part of American history that the museum has been documenting since its founding, both knowingly and unknowingly.
Our collections span centuries and include objects related to protest and politics, medicine and psychology, love and marriage, sports and entertainment, and more. Sometimes, curators and archivists collected objects for a specific reason that later turned out to have LGBTQ+ connections. For example, the numismatics collection has coins that were collected decades ago with the likenesses of emperors and royalty, such as Queen Christina of Sweden, who expressed same-sex attraction. Identities, terms, and definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity have been in flux as long as there have been humans. The museum is continually adding to and mining our existing resources in order to better understand evolving and overlapping identities such as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, transsexual, transvestite, mahu, homosexual, fluid, invert, urning, third sex, two sex, gender-bender, sapphist, hijra, friend of Dorothy, drag queen/king, and many other experiences.
The resources gathered on this page offer a path into the museum’s efforts in finding that past and making sense of it.
There are over 1,000 legal rights that come with marriage recognition. After decades of political, religious, and social contention, LGBTQ+ people gained the full legal right to marry in 2015 with the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.
In 1973, a suspicious fire destroyed the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles. MCC was founded in 1968 by Rev. Troy Perry and is the oldest LGBTQ+ ministry in the world. Parishioners, although grieving the loss, salvaged what they could and rebuilt. The stained glass windows were damaged beyond repair but still capable of inspiration. This cross was made from some of the shards.
Comics have often included suggestions of queer love and same-sex comaraderie. Openly gay characters in mainstream comics began to appear in the late 1980s. Extraño, the sorcerer, appeared in DC comics in 1988 but was killed off. Marvel created superhero Northstar, in 1992. X-Men recently featured Rictor and Shatterstar. Alongside those examples, LGBTQ+ people had been publishing illustrated stories for each other much longer. These Gay Comics are from the early 1990s. NMAH.AC.1146
Gay and Lesbian Association Cuban Exiles marched with this banner in a New York City Pride Parade in the 1990s. Celebrations of LGBTQ+ pride originated in New York, San Francisico and other cities to mark the first anniversary of the uprising at the 1969 Stonewall Inn, New York City. NMAH.AC.1146
- Sylvia Rivera: Pushing Boundaries. This episode of our Latinas Talk Latinas series features Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman who was a fierce defender of LGBTQ+ rights.
- Beyond Stonewall. This Smithsonian Channel production revisits the historic moment that began a movement and explores objects from the Smithsonian that tell stories of the gay experience in America.
- History Time: LGBTQ+ Pride. This entry from our video series for elementary-age kids uses a rainbow rubber bracelet to explore the meaning of LGBTQ+ pride.