A groundbreaking history exhibit has been traveling across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, educating communities near and far about the efforts that activists have undertaken in Pennsylvania to achieve full equality for LGBTQ+ people.
Entitled The Long Road to LGBTQ+ Equality in Pennsylvania, this exhibit was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a pivotal moment in the LGBT movement toward equality.
With the lack of success in passing statewide legislative protections from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and education, activists in Pennsylvania have been working for more than five decades to obtain these protections one battle at a time, one municipality at a time. The exhibit uses case studies of several cities and townships to highlight not just the political struggles, but the personal stories as well.
This exhibit tells these stories through historical narrative, photographs, and video of activists’ first-person accounts who were involved in the struggles to achieve protection from discrimination. Along the way, they faced some of the very discrimination they were seeking to protect their communities from, including harassment, physical assault, arson, and bombings.
Three copies of this exhibit have been traveling throughout Pennsylvania since February 2019, with a total of 42 bookings so far. Venues have included LGBT centers, Pride festivals, colleges and universities, K-12 schools, long-term care facilities, libraries, and government buildings.
What has this exhibit meant to the communities who have hosted it? Here are a few reflections from them.
“As both an activist and a resident of York County, it was particularly powerful to see my region represented specifically in the project,” said Carla Christopher, Director of the York LGBTQIA+ Resource Center. “There is great power in naming a thing and in giving specific affirmation and voice to groups of disenfranchised people as we already know. In a Pennsylvania landscape often dominated by larger cities, it was delightfully affirming and relevant to hear the stories and see the accomplishments of people from my hometown and from neighboring communities. The historical deep dives and research that went into this project were obvious and deeply appreciated.”
“North Penn School District is honored and beyond excited to use the traveling [exhibit] as one tool to eradicate the notion that history only exits from narrow perspectives chosen to be revealed in textbooks,” said Colleen Mroz, GSA Advisor at North Penn School District. “There is a history that is palatable, real, and integral, but yet untold by America’s majority and therefore undiscovered by our future leaders. That history of LGBTQ people is more than worthy to be studied; learning about the struggles of our people excluded in so many ways is critically essential to the possibility of equity and justice in our nation.”
“We were very honored and excited to show this exhibit,” said Ken Beiler, Executive Director of Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley. “We had a wine and appetizer reception the first night that was well attended. Those who attended were delighted by the information provided, and indicated that much of it was unknown prior to this. I was proud to see the role that my home city of Lancaster played. We had the exhibit in a location...that allowed for much exposure for our employees. Throughout the month, I noted many employees stopping to read and learn. The comments I heard back from them reinforced our philosophy of inclusion and acceptance.”