As election season shifts into high gear, the Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale is looking back at the milestones of LBT political activists and elected officials.
“Elected Sisters – Pioneering Bi, Lesbian and Trans Political Leaders” opened on Sept. 8 and will remain on view through Nov. 6.
In a video introduction to the exhibit available on YouTube, museum director Hunter O’Hanian explained the inspiration for the project:
“This idea came to us last year … when we were thinking about the idea that the election would very much be on everyone’s minds. We wanted to look at some firsts and we wanted to look at some ways to go into the archives and impact people’s thinking on the election,” he said.
While neither O’Hanian nor the museum are advocating for any particular candidate, he hopes the exhibition will inspire the public to exercise their right to vote in what could be a historic election.
“We again have a woman [Sen. Kamala Harris] as a candidate for vice president … and that is truly an accomplishment. And four years ago, Hillary Clinton attempted to run for president but was not successful,” he pointed out. “In the election two years ago, the number of women running for public office has grown. LGBTQ women have put themselves forward early and often, but that has come at a cost for many of those individuals. They’ve had bullets shot at their windows, they’ve endured insults and harassment, their lives and families have been threatened.”
Many LBT politicians have become familiar names in recent years, including former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and U.S. Representatives Angie Craig (MN), Sharice Davids (KS) and Katie Hill (CA).
Drawing on the archives’ extensive collection, the exhibit displays copies of lesbian newsletters from the 1950s and ‘60s that document early attempts at political organization.
Lesbian Connection, published by a group called the Ambitious Amazons in East Lansing, Michigan, featured a column dedicated to helping readers become candidates for local political office.
Minutes from a 1965 meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco reference a conference the following year, also dedicated to recruiting and training a new generation of activists and candidates.
Political pioneers are also saluted, including Kathy Kozachenko, the first out lesbian to be elected to public office, Ann Arbor, Michigan city council in 1974, four years before Harvey Milk was elevated to the San Francisco city commissioner.
Two years later, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature. The exhibit features memorabilia from her unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.
In 1980, the year conservative Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president, Minnesota chose Karen Clark for its statehouse. She served nearly four decades, becoming the longest-serving lesbian state legislator.
O’Hanian noted that, including LGBT causes, Clark was also a fierce advocate for environmental causes, senior citizens and affordable housing in her state.
“These pioneering women who took these roles on — yes, they were concerned about LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ culture — but, they were also were concerned with everyone’s environment. They served all of their constituents … they weren’t there just to serve their gay constituents,” he emphasized.
Other history-making women profiled in the exhibit include Roberta Achtenberg, Joanne Conte, Althea Garrison, Deborah Glick, Cheryl Jacques, Gail Shibley, and Liz Stefanics.
“Elected Sisters – Pioneering Bi, Lesbian and Trans Political Leaders” is on exhibit Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., through Nov. 8 at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free and social distancing protocols are observed. For more information, go to Stonewall-Museum.org.