The Smithsonian Institution’s host of cultural institutions may one day include a national museum chronicling the work of LGBTQ+ movements in the United States.
US Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin introduced two bills on 29 September to establish the National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History and Culture in Washington, DC, the first step in what will likely be a lengthy legislative process. The first bill creates an eight-member commission to explore the viability of creating the museum, including developing a fundraising plan and identifying possible locations. The second will formally establish it within the Smithsonian Institution.
“As our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history, we must preserve and protect our stories for future generations,” Pocan, who is one of nine openly gay members of the US House of Representatives, said in a statement. “It is vital to remember our collective past—particularly when certain states seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing bills that harm LGBTQ youth and our community at large. Let’s tell these stories, and honour the many contributions the LGBTQ community has made to this nation with a museum in Washington, DC.”
Pocan, a Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, is one of 59 sponsors of the legislation. As Washingtonian noted, the announcement came two days after students in Virginia walked out of their classrooms to protest Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed guidelines that would remove protections for transgender and nonbinary students in the state’s public schools. It also came ahead of LGBT History Month, a month-long celebration in October of those communities.
The proposed museum represents the latest move in efforts to amplify historically marginalised narratives under the Smithsonian umbrella, entry into which guarantees high visibility and, for many, symbolises critical, long-overdue acknowledgement into the canon of US history. In December 2020, Congress passed legislation to establish the American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino, the newest additions to the Smithsonian since the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016. In April, the House of Representatives approved a bill to study the feasibility of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture.
The National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History and Culture would be the first of its kind in the museum complex, and one of a handful of cultural institutions in the country with this focus. A foundation known as the Velvet Foundation had developed ideas for a similar museum in New York, but those plans appear to have stalled.
In the spring, two spaces devoted to the LGBTQ+ community opened in London, Queer Britain and a permanent space for the charity Queercircle.