Philadelphia History Museum to Host LGBT Exhibit

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The Philadelphia History Museum will celebrate Pride with the launch of a new exhibit that explores LGBT history in Philadelphia.

The museum, which opened in the renovated Atwater Kent Museum space last fall, will host “Private Lives in Public Spaces: Bringing Philadelphia’s LGBT History Out in the Open” starting June 5. A reception will be held June 19, and the exhibit will run through October.

The collection is drawn from the William Way LGBT Community Center Archives and will be installed in the Philadelphia Voices gallery, which is devoted to community history, and which has so far included exhibits from the Mural Arts Program and the Energy Coordinating Agency.

Museum executive director Charles Croce said the space helps tell community stories that are integral to Philadelphia’s history, but that aren’t as widely known.

“The idea is to provide a forum of civic, nonprofit or educational institutions to showcase their histories and contributions to Philadelphia history,” Croce said. “That’s the focus. It’s an important way for Philadelphians and visitors to get to know organizations they may not be familiar with.”

The museum has incorporated LGBT elements into past exhibits but this is the first that will focus exclusively on the LGBT community.

Candice Thompson, director of center services at William Way, said center archivist Bob Skiba suggested the organization apply for a Philadelphia Voices exhibit after a discussion with the History Museum historian.

She said Skiba culled a broad representation of the center’s archives for the exhibit. It will feature photos of gay bars from the 1970s and ’80s as well as former and longtime community leaders; ephemera such as a denim jacket covered in pins from local leather clubs and LGBT organizations; selections from the James T. Caulfield and Rafael A. Suarez collection highlighting the couple’s travels and correspondence; and a 40-minute video running on a loop from the Robert R. Rosenbaum Oral History project, among other items.

Thompson said the exhibit will be especially educational for non-LGBT audiences.

“The title is ‘Private Lives in Public Spaces,’ so this is all about reaching a broader audience,” she said. “We want to give people a glimpse into what it was like to come out and live a queer life in the 1960s, ’70s, and let them hear directly from the people who lived through that time.”

In addition to the gallery items, the museum will host the Philadelphia Freedom Band several times throughout the exhibit’s tenure and is also working with William Way on a discussion series, Croce said.

Croce noted that about 50 percent of museum visitors live outside Philadelphia, and an additional 15 percent are international visitors.

He said “Private Lives in Public Spaces” will help visitors get a full look at Philadelphia history.

“The objects that you see here at the museum all tell a story; we showcase what we call material culture, which are objects, artifacts, artwork that tell a story. So these photos, buttons, the jacket, memorabilia, they all tell stories of Philadelphia. It’s important that people are exposed to Philadelphia’s history through a variety of eyes and objects.”

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From our media partner PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.