Back in 1973, the year South Florida activist Mark Silber founded the Stonewall Library, most LGBT people were in the closet. Thirty-eight years later, Silber’s “baby” is now the Stonewall National Museum & Archives and hardly a day goes by when some celebrity does not come out as part of the LGBT community. “Our Stars: Gifts from Celebrities” is Stonewall’s tribute to an ever-growing list of famous women and men whose lives inspire our own. Opened on November 14 and running through December 31, “Our Stars” displays personal items, photographs, awards and historic artifacts donated by national and local LGBT celebrities. The exhibit is dedicated to the recently-deceased, Dr. Franklin Kameny, who is also featured.
According to Brian McNaught, author and Stonewall Board Member, “Our Stars: Gifts from Celebrities” “was an idea that came from the board of directors as a means of educating today and tomorrow’s youth about the lives of community members of whom they could be proud. There was no definition of ‘Star’ created, but the understanding was that the person’s life, work or individual contribution to our movement improved or positively impacted the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. A ‘Star’ does not have to be a pop-culture celebrity, but instead someone who can be looked up to as a role model in our community.”
McNaught and other Stonewall board members compiled a list of well-known LGBT people. These people were contacted and asked to donate personal photos that portray them as they would like to be remembered by, as well as personal iconic artifacts that connect them to this and future generations.
“Our Stars: Gifts from Celebrities” feature contributions by over forty LGBT celebs. They include six of Dr. Kameny’s protest signs, author Gregory Maguire’s handmade and painted ceramic bowl depicting Elphaba from his award-winning novel Wicked, fashionista Carson Kressley’s pink jacket worn in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, SFGN publisher Norm Kent’s leather vest, actor Peter Paige’s orange leather pants worn in Queer as Folk, an early drag photo of Harvey Fierstein, a tennis racquet signed by Martina Navratilova, and the gavel used by Nancy Pelosi to hammer in the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and later donated to Rep. Barney Frank. Other contributors to the exhibit include McNaught, Elaine Noble, Joel Burns, John J. McNeill, Leslie Jordan, Lynn Lavner, Mark LaFontaine, Patricia Nell Warren and Virginia Apuzzo.
Two of the Stars represented in the exhibit were given special honor by the Stonewall board. The Stonewall Heritage Award was given to Elaine Noble of Massachusetts, who in 1974 became the first openly LGBT person to be elected to a state legislature. Since then, most states have elected at least one such individual to their legislatures. Florida is still waiting. The newly-created Stonewall Spirit of Pride Award was given to Fort Worth, Texas Council member Joel Burns, for bringing international attention to the “It Gets Better” campaign against bullying.
Both Noble and Burns were honored at the first annual Our Stars Party, held November 11 at the home of McNaught and his partner, Ray Struble. In attendance were such luminaries as Kent, McNeill, Chuck Wolfe, Diane Olson and Robin Tyler.
According to Bryan W. Knicely, President of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, “the Our Stars celebration of community members’ contributions for 2012 has already begun with donations of personal photos and artifacts. The Our Stars Party will be held annually on the same weekend in November. The opening of the new exhibition will take place at the same time.
Meanwhile, visitors are invited by the exhibit to “reflect on the Stars’ status of your own journeys. Think about what photograph might best represent you to others and what personal artifact would personally connect us to your hero’s trek. The ‘Stars’ of our lives are not limited to the celebrities of our culture. They include every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person, and our heterosexual allies, whose stellar lives of actualization and wholeness make us want to know their stories within our walls and hearts.”
“Our Stars: Gifts from Celebrities” is housed at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, located at 1300 East Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information phone (954) 763-8565 or visit www.stonewallnationalmuseum.org.