JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s been two weeks since the LGBT history exhibit was removed from the Missouri Capitol and emails obtained via an open records request show some state employees anticipated the display would cause controversy.
The state said it received complaints about the exhibit and the right steps weren’t taken for it to be on display. Three days after being put on display inside the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol, it was moved into the Lohman Building, adjacent to the statehouse. Both the governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which oversees the museum, said state statutes weren’t followed for the exhibit to be on display.
In the dozens of emails from DNR, there’s no mention of the exhibit needing approval, just that there were complaints from others in the Capitol.
Sen. Greg Razer (D-Kansas City), the only openly gay state senator, said this new location is like being moved into a closet. He said those laws haven’t been followed in years. During the veto session last week, Razer held the floor for nearly 15 minutes discussing how disappointed he was in Missouri.
“Apparently, some that serve in this building think that my history is offensive,” Razer said.
The “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” is a traveling exhibit made by students at the University of Missouri Kansas City. It focuses on gay rights groups from the 1950s and the struggle for the LGBT community.
“Laws were set up across the nation, including in Missouri and in Kansas City, that allowed for people like me to be arrested simply for being in a bar,” Razer said. “There’s a lot in our history that we should not be proud of, part of the history in our that we should be proud of will be deliberately ignored.”
The museum is managed by Missouri State Parks’ which is overseen by DNR. It was set to be on display inside the state museum in the Capitol through Dec. 26 but was removed last Wednesday. That came after a legislative aide for state Rep. Mitch Boggs, a Republican from La Russell, posted pictures of the exhibit on Facebook and questioned why it was being displayed.
Documents from DNR showed Uriah Stark emailed the director of policy and legislative affairs for DNR Rich Germander, saying he spoke with multiple staffers and elected officials who feel the exhibit should not be displayed in the Capitol.
“The Missouri State Museum recently announced a new addition to the museum in the form of a ‘traveling exhibit’ that will be in place until December 26th,” the email said. “The exhibit makes a controversial topic, the LGBT movement, and places it unavoidably in the center of the Missouri State Museum in our Capitol Building. Many people, including elected officials, staff, and visitors (including children) will be subjected to objectionable content on a daily basis for months. While history includes all history, I find it offensive that this particular aspect of history is being promoted with a partisan bent, especially in light of many other historical matters that have much more significance to Missouri history and Missourians than this biased exhibit. Please look into this and see what can be done about it.”
Before the display was removed, museum director Tiffany Patterson wrote a colleague about standing their ground when it came to this exhibit since controversy was expected.
“Just trying to build a team of Bada$$ coworkers to hold the division and department’s feet to the fire if this goes south,” Patterson wrote. “If we say we want to be inclusive, we need to practice what we preach.”
Less than six hours later, Germander was emailing representatives and Stark back saying the exhibit was being removed. The next morning, Patterson sent another email out to employees in the department about the display being removed.
“You may notice that the History Hall is a little less full this morning. Yesterday evening I was told that the Making History exhibit must come done. There may be alternatives but for now, it is tucked
away, out of sight,” the email read. “This makes me profoundly sad. Whether or not this exhibit returns to the History Hall, finds a new temporary home in the Lohman, or returns to Kansas City, remain committed to pushing the line forward so that we can tell authentic stories about all of Missouri’s people.”
Representatives that sent emails to DNR included Rep. Ann Kelley (R-Lamar), who asked who was in charge of the exhibits inside the museum.
“We have a gay rights exhibit in our museum at the state Capitol that I believe is not appropriate,” Kelley said.
Rep. Louis Riggs (R-Hannibal) also sent a note to the Germander saying, “Just in time for the Bicentennial Inaugural Ball?”
After Germander responded to Riggs that the exhibit was being removed, he responded with another email that said:
“Out of morbid curiosity, how much did the exhibit cost, who authorized it, and who did the research? Any other state agencies involved? I don’t mind factual material, but indoctrination on the taxpayer’s dime crosses the line.”
According to the documents, Germander did not respond.
Patterson also emailed the UMKC curator for the exhibit, Stuart Hinds, on the morning of Sept. 2, saying:
I wanted to give you an update. Yesterday afternoon we were told to take down the Making History exhibit by the Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. I was told they would look into “alternatives” for display, but haven’t heard anything new as of this morning along those lines. Please know that I am profoundly saddened by this action. I do know that several media outlets are now aware of the exhibit removal and are asking questions. You may be contacted at some point by the press for more information about the exhibit or for a statement. I don’t know if there will be a media storm or a passing shower, but did want to give you a heads-up just in case.”
Hinds responded by saying he was “infuriated.”
“I, too, am profoundly saddened and infuriated. I appreciate your support of the exhibit, and we will wait to see what unfolds. As you can expect, lots of flurry at this end, and I’ll keep you all posted as it develops.”
DNR did release a statement on Sept. 3 that said the exhibit was pulled after receiving complaints.
“We apologize for the way this unfolded,” said Dru Buntin, director of the Department of Natural Resources said in the Friday news release. “We agree the history of all Missourians is an important story that needs to be told, and we’ve made a commitment to work with the members of the State Capitol Commission and the Board of Public Buildings to do so.”
Buntin said after what was called a “careful review,” the decision was made to move the exhibit to the Lohman House, part of the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.
Razer said when he was 17 years old, he was suicidal about being gay and is worried for other teenagers feeling the same way when hearing the state of Missouri removed an LGBT exhibit. He told his colleagues last week this will be the last time while he’s in office that someone will “attack” LBGTQ Missourians.
“Let me say that in the next three to seven years, any attempt to attack LGBT Missourians, I will use every tool I have to stop you,” Razer said. “In every one of our districts right now, there is a young person who is consciously making the decision of which is better, coming out and telling people who they are or committing suicide.”
DNR officials say the exhibit is open to the public at the Lohman Building, which is on Jefferson Street, between the governor’s mansion and the Capitol. It will be on display through Dec. 26.