LGBT history comes alive at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives. The good, the bad and the ugly are showcased in the most comprehensive library of gay and lesbian materials. From the successful campaign to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the Stonewall riots and Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Miami, it’s all there.
What began as a small pioneering library in 1973 has grown into a national historic and cultural institution that documents the accomplishments and struggles of the past while looking ahead to the future. The archives are rows and rows filled with boxes of photos, buttons, news clippings, anything and everything documenting LGBT history.
Bryan W. Knicely is Stonewall’s president since April. Knicely has a Master of Arts from Ohio State University, and was trained at the Harvard Business School in Performance Measurements for Effective Nonprofit Organizations.
Knicely may be new to Stonewall, but he’s not new to museums. Previously he worked at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. Prior to relocating Fort Lauderdale, he was the president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council in Columbus, Ohio and assistant director and accessibility coordinator for the Maine Arts Commission in Augusta, Maine.
He’s received many awards for his past creative work and service including Manager of the Year in State Government at the Maine Arts Commission (twice) along with two Golden Arrow Awards and two Silver Arrow Awards from the Maine Public Relations Council.
He says the staff at Stonewall comprises himself and one other person. The museum gets a lot of help from volunteers. People are always needed to work at the library’s front desk and the museum is always looking for people that have marketing, design and library science experience to lend their time.
These days the venue is on its way to becoming a “must-see” for tourists, locals and anyone who wants to learn more about LGBT history and culture.
Among the many treasures in the archives are an extensive pulp fiction collection; organizational records of local, regional and national LGBT organizations; personal records of local and national personalities; and film, audio and oral histories.
“Our focus is on everything, not just on things that happened since the Stonewall riots. There are not a lot of artifacts out there. People did not know what to save or what not to save. We encourage people to send us what they have.”
Recent acquisitions include a copy of Walt Whitman’s 1876 “Two Rivulets.” It’s one of only 100 leather bound copies. It’s personalized by Whitman and contains handwritten changes to the text. Another important new item is a Susan B. Anthony handwritten four-page letter written in January 1888. The letter was sent to women’s suffrage advocate inviting him to a special gathering of other pioneering leaders of women’s liberation.
New items arrive by the box load every week. Knicely credits Chief Archivist Paul Fasana for organizing each item. “He knows everything in the archives. It’s pretty miraculous,” he said.
Stonewall’s circulating book collection includes more than 25,000 titles and each week new items are added. The circulation DVD collection contains more than 1,000 titles, ranging from classic gay cinema to the most recent releases. Stonewall members are able to check out books and movies. Members can also read the more than 60 national and regional periodicals available in the library’s John Graves Reading Room. Membership costs $35 for individuals and $50 for families.
After their Florida showings, Stonewall’s Museum exhibitions travel extensively and have received national attention. Knicely describes them as Stonewall’s “best kept secret.” Each one tells a story based on items in the archives. Some of the past exhibits include The Harlem Renaissance: As Gay as It Was Black, Stonewall: The End of the Beginning of Gay Liberation and Days Without Sunshine: Anita Bryant’s Anti-Gay Crusade.
Throughout the year, Stonewall hosts readings, lectures and book signings by LGBT authors. Separately, four writer’s workshops are held each year, designed to help both established and aspiring writers hone their craft. Each Friday, there’s a film series that highlights LGBT cinema.
The Stonewall National Library & Archives honored Elaine Noble and Joel Burns with their Stonewall Heritage of Pride and Stonewall Spirit of Pride Awards at its Our Stars event Nov. 11.
Elaine Noble is known for becoming the first openly gay person in history to be elected to a statehouse in 1975 in Massachusetts. While Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Councilman, is known for his tearful speech on bullying to his colleagues, which was seen by more than two million people on YouTube. The event exhibited new items for the archives donated by celebrities including Carson Kressley, Barney Frank, the Hat Sisters, Martina Navratilova and Lily Tomlin, and it has been extended, by popular demand, until Jan. 28.
Stonewall National Museum & Archives is located at 1300 East Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304. Visit the museum online at StonewallNationalMuseum.org or on Facebook for more information.