The first gay bar to open its doors in Wilton Manors was Other Side, a lesbian bar.
It was a woman who fought to keep the human rights ordinance in Broward County, women who nursed gay men to their death during the AIDS crisis, and it was a trans woman who threw the first brick during the Stonewall riots.
Women are integral to LGBTQ history, but they seldom make the walls of exhibits and programming outside of Women’s History Month. The Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale wants to change that.
“HERStory,” an exhibit at the museum, opens today and is also the kick-off to the Women’s Fund, a five-year initiative to increase programming and events geared towards women.
“History that women have been a part of and have pioneered — seeing that on the wall is needed,” said Paola Sierra, the exhibit’s curator and museum’s digital asset manager. “Those stories need to be told and it’s just incredible to see it together in a collection up on the wall.”
Starting the project in June, the Stonewall team was able to put together “HERStory,” an exhibit featuring newsletters, magazines, newspaper clippings, photographs, and objects such as Ellen DeGeneres’ shoes, Martina Navratilova’s warm-up suit, and t-shirts from different movements. Guests can also see copies of activist publications such as Sisters For and By Gay Women and Off Our Backs.
But Robert Kesten, who took over as executive director of Stonewall in June, and others at the museum didn’t want the recognition of women in the equality movement to be a fleeting exhibit — that’s why the exhibit also coincides with the launch of the Women’s Fund, a five-year initiative to showcase the role of women in LGBTQ history.
“There were very few women that came through the door, and there were very few programs geared towards attracting them,” Kesten explained. “I didn’t think just doing an event asking people to come here was enough. We should do not only an exhibit but … create a Women’s Fund to show we are serious about welcoming women into the organization.”
The Women’s Fund will be focused on increasing programming and women’s outreach. Think the Women’s Liberation Movement, the role women played during the AIDS crisis, and local heroes such as Robin L. Bodiford, who fought to keep Broward County’s human rights ordinances in place to protect LGBT people. Bodford also serves as the honorary chairperson for “HERStory.”
“What we realized is we really needed to do more programming for women, and we needed to create parity, equality in the archive and the collection,” said Karen Kelley, the chairperson for “HERStory” and a member of the Women’s Fund board of directors. “We think for the next generations to learn how to fight for their rights, they have to learn from the past generations.”
Kesten also noted the importance of women allies over the years, such as Doris Day’s public support of Rock Hudson in his final days, Jeanne Manford advocating for her gay son and co-founding PFLAG in 1973, and Elizabeth Taylor founding The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).
“For me, the most important thing that people take away from this is that until everybody’s story is told — until we hear from women, trans women, women of color — we will continue to make the mistakes that we have made historically and one of the reasons that we’re in such difficult times now is we do not know how to study history,” Kesten said.
“HERStory” kicks off with an opening reception Friday, July 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, 1300 Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Visit stonewall-museum.org.