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National Museum of American History Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising With “Illegal To Be You” Display

June 17, 2019
A round object with a weathered butterscotch colored background and decorative plum design in the center

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising with a yearlong display showcasing more than 20 objects, 30 buttons and graphics from the Smithsonian’s LGBTQ+ collections, including clothing belonging to 1998 hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard and the figure skating costume gold medalist Brian Boitano wore in the 1988 Olympics. “Illegal To Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” opens June 21 on the museum’s second floor and will be on view through spring 2020.

This display will examine the complexities of LGBTQ+ history rooted in the Stonewall uprising that reach beyond that memorable event.

In June 1969, members of the LGBTQ+ community spontaneously resisted a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The uprising lasted six days, making this moment one of the most famous in gay history and sparking a larger conversation about the consequences, risks and rewards of being different.

“There is no one, unified gay history; what all gay people have shared across time is the struggle for the right to be themselves and the museum has been documenting these stories for decades,” said Katherine Ott, curator at the museum. “Today, gay Americans have achieved so much, yet many people are unaware of how it happened.”

Materials from the National Museum of American History’s LGBTQ+ collections date back to the 19th century. Objects in the collections include a selection of protest signs from gay civil rights activist Frank Kameny, Billie Jean King’s tennis dress, the first transgender pride flag and HIV and AIDS-related lab equipment and medications. The archival collections are rich in ephemera, oral histories, photographs, posters and entertainment publicity materials. In years past, the museum has produced displays marking the 25th and 40th anniversaries of Stonewall as well as a showcase for the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

On the Web

To browse more information, including blog posts, object records and more content related to the museum’s LGBTQ collections, beginning June 21, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu/topics/lgbtq-history.

Smithsonian Channel Documentary

Using commentary from LGBTQ+ allies and icons and expert perspectives from Smithsonian curators, new documentary Smithsonian Time Capsule: Beyond Stonewall tells stories of the LGBTQ+ community in America through an exploration of rare artifacts in the Smithsonian collections, predominantly from the National Museum of American History. The documentary will premiere Monday, June 24 at 8 PM ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel.

About the Museum

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more informed future. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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