Museum in Fort Lauderdale displays LGBT History

Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale is saying “Don’t Ask, Do Tell” in an exhibition that shows how the LGBT community responded to the controversial policy before it was enacted and during the 17 years it was in place. 

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the policy approved by President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993 that allowed LGBT people to stay in the military, as long as no one discussed their sexual preference.

The exhibit also focuses on the relationship between the U.S. military and the LGBT community from George Washington time to today. Form ost of the nation’s history, gay people were subject to dishonorable discharge.

The exhibit includes newspaper clippings from 1993, pamphlets encouraging people to join the movement against the policy, and anti-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell memorabilia.

Other items include T-shirts that read “No one signed up for boot camp to get a date,” dog tags that say “Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!” in capital letters and newspaper headlines saying that allowing gay people in the armed forces would destroy the military.   

“The main goal of the museum is to collect, preserve and exhibit LGBT history,” says Hunter O’Hanian, the museum’s executive director. “Exhibits like ‘Don’t Ask, Do Tell’ tell the stories of the struggles and accomplishments LGBT folk in this country have faced.”

Stonewall National Museum and Archives was founded in 1972. It started out as a library but soon expanded into a museum. It is one of the largest gay archives and libraries in the country. 

The name “Stonewall” honors the Stonewall riots of 1969, which launched the gay liberation movement. The riots took place after police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. It was a known gay bar and same-sex relations were illegal in New York City at the time. 

Another exhibit, “Misinformation,” looks at the AIDS epidemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Public attitudes toward both plagues were often based on bad and sometimes deadly information.

O’Hanian says the exhibit also aims to present how there were many false “cures” and “treatments” to HIV/AIDS and how false ideas spread through the gay community. 

Books, newspapers and brochures of the time show how inaccurate the reporting on the AIDS epidemic was. Many had false information on how the disease was transmitted and who could be infected. 

Even some books on the library’s shelves contained wrong information and were taken off the shelf and placed in the exhibit. 

 Like most businesses, the museum had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic and went digital to continue educating people on LGBT history. 

“One of the things we’ve implemented is our virtual programs,” says Paola Sierra, the digitization manager of the museum. 

“In Plain Sight” is a virtual timeline on the museum’s website that shows the accomplishments of LGBT people throughout history. 

“LGBTQ history is very important to American history,” says Sierra. “A lot of times when we talk about American history there’s a gap. And LGBTQ history certainly fills that gap.”

Gabriela Enamorado is a junior at Florida International University majoring in journalism and minoring in History. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale and hopes to one day work for a magazine or newspaper.