Remember the gay-history exhibit coming to the Missouri History Museum? The one that revealed the homophobic worst in St. Louis' online commenters?
Turns out, there's no need to wait for the history museum to catalog and archive before seeing Steven Brawley's collection of historical LGBT artifacts reaching back six decades. A sampling of the collection is on display at the phd gallery's exhibition, "A History of Queer: Selections from the St. Louis LGBT History Project," through February -- one final stop before officially becoming part of the museum's conservancy.
Displaying local gay history in a historical exhibit seems extraordinary, considering the decades queer men and women have spent hiding any traces of their friends, hobbies and love lives from mainstream America. Now, their clothes, clocks, accessories, photos and more are out of the closet, literally salvaged from people's homes and preserved by local activists.
"The thing that's weird is that when you live your life in secret, there's not a lot of history that's been recorded," gallery owner Philip Hitchcock tells Daily RFT. "The story of the LGBT community tends to be one of moving from secrecy and shadows into the light, into saying, 'Here we are.'"
Hitchcock admits some of the artifacts seem down-right ordinary. A friend recently asked why a 37-year-old St. Louis Pride T-shirt deserved a spot in the historical collection.
"She said, 'My husband has shirts older than that,'" Hitchcock says. "But the difference is, everyone knows your husband has been [wearing] that. We've been in secret."
The collection includes matchbook covers from gay bars long closed, protest posters from high school students and pins and dog tags from every Pride event in St. Louis.
Luckily, St. Louis' drag queens add a dose of glamour to the collection, including a Cher-inspired 1973 Indian headdress worn by Lee Maynard and a gorgeous black gown worn by Lady Charles, the owner of Charlie's Lounge on Sixth Street.
"It's so over the top," Hitchcock says. "How fun that we have this, and it's going to be preserved."
Brawley began collecting queer-history artifacts in 2007.
"I was sad to see our community elders dying off, their stories untold and personal artifacts thrown away," Brawley says. "I knew as an LGBT community we had to do something to preserve our very own special queer history, a history that was largely unknown."
The exhibition runs until March 1 at the phd gallery. Admission is free, but a $10 donation goes to support the St. Louis LGBT History Project.
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