Missouri Museum gets gay collection

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Huy Mach | 14130

The Missouri History Museum is hoping to acquire a private collection of gay memorabilia and artifacts from the last 40 years, for its collection and to begin its gay collection.

The private collection of Steven Brawley is being made available. Mr Brawley started collecting Drag queen dresses and wigs, leather vests, handwritten protest signs, Pride Parade T-shirts, and books.

“Sometimes things are happening right before our very eyes,” said museum curator Sharon Smith.

Mr Brawley said finding a home for three-dimensional artifacts is more difficult. “What worries me is this stuff sitting down here,” he said recently, nodding to the piles in his basement. “I want to keep it safe.”

He started about seven years ago, when he and other project contributors began to watch gay community leaders age and die without plans for their memorabilia. Families threw away boxes and boxes of history, either ignorant of their importance or embarrassed by what they saw.

This September, the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History included a session on the topic: “Entering the Mainstream, Interpreting GLBT History.”

There are opponents who do not like tax payers’ money being spent on gay collections. “I don’t think it’s a good use of tax money at all,” said Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, a Republican from Lake Saint Louis, who recently issued a news release criticizing tax benefits for gay couples.

Mr Brawley’s basement now holds several thousand little pieces of history. He has a handwritten poster from teacher Rodney Wilson’s 1994 Mehlville classroom, urging in multicolored marker that parents support their gay children. Wilson came out to his class, and went on to start the national LGBT History Month. A black bejeweled dress is tucked in another corner, wrapped in plastic. A local drag queen who called himself Lady Charles wore it on stage in the 1970s, at a time when the city’s “masquerading laws” made cross-dressing illegal and drew periodic police raids, and motorcycle vests remind of days when St. Louis had three gay men’s riding clubs. One of the vests, in leather, has a patch identifying its owner as a Show-Me Bear, St. Louis’s club for bears.

SP

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