By John M. Hayden
From marginalization to marriage, the closet to living life out and proud, the history of the LGBTQ+ community has been marked with heartbreaking violence to soul-restoring triumph. The keepers of that history have long been in Fort Lauderdale at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives (SNMA), and they are asking you to join them.
Their membership drive is underway, and Executive Director Hunter O’Hanian told OutClique that it’s not just about raising money, it’s about being part of the community. “In its 50 years, Stonewall has been a community resource. Membership has always been part of who we are. We have had thousands of people who have stepped forward to say they support the need to preserve and present our heritage. That’s what membership says. It says: this is something important that I support, not just for me but for those who were before and also who are yet to find their voice.”
With more than six million pages of documents and records, SNMA holds critical pieces of our story, a story that often isn’t told to much of the world. To tell that story, they hold exhibits year round. In addition to the physical displays at the museum (they reopened in July 2020), many of the exhibits are available online, and they just opened two shows. “First, we have Off Our Backs, a look at early lesbian publications from 1950 to 2000. We also have The Saint, a look at the iconic disco in NYC in the 1980s. Both exhibitions have objects and ideas found in Stonewall’s archives.”
Hunter says the pandemic created a lot of challenges, but also provided an opportunity to find new fans. “We’ve challenged ourselves on every front and found new ways to tell cultural truths. We have launched a virtual programming series which has found a national audience. We have smart, professional exhibitions based on LGBTQ+ history. We have launched a queer studies journal. We have received funding from major national foundations and begun the digitization of our archives which can now reach an international audience of scholars, writers, and artists. We have retooled our vision and plan for the future.”
Hunter has been with SNMA for a year and a half, and says the history he learns makes it all worthwhile. “I like the stories I hear,” and he wants our community to join him. “While we are a small and mighty non-profit, we are blessed to have the responsibility of accurately preserving history for future generations. Thankfully many people understand our charge and actively want to be members.”