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.

Display case in the museum
The “Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” display was on view at the museum from June 2019 to July 2021.



  • 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.

News Releases

From Our Blog

Graduation cap, gown, rainbow-colored stole, and costume wings in the pattern of Monarch butterfly wings. The top of the cap is decorated with flowers and  has a message, "I am one of those people Mexico sent."

To explore the history of  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the museum's Undocumented Organizing Collecting Initiative reached out to three undocumented organizers to share their reflections from inside the movement.

Detail from the cover of the magazine, ONE: The Homosexual Viewpoint, with a black-and-white illustration of the Biblical Magi

I was surprised . . . by the dialogue I encountered in a December 1960 issue of ONE: The Homosexual Viewpoint, titled “Homosexual, Servant of God,” which actively and openly discussed reconciling sexuality and Christian religious identity nine years before the famous Stonewall uprising in New York City.

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