JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – An exhibit documenting the history of gay rights in Kansas City is back on display in Jefferson City after it was removed from the Capitol last week.
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.
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.
“The interpretation of this statute is ludicrous,” Razer said. “If that’s what they are holding onto, then be consistent and let’s remove every item out of that museum. The administration and the State Parks took that exhibit out of the state Capitol and they put it in a closet.”
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.
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.
“I was in the closet for 20 years. I’m not going back in and I’m not going to let my history go in the closet,” 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.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s office said Thursday that proper steps weren’t followed to authorize the display. Friday afternoon, DNR said in a release 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 he spoke with DNR Friday about the department moving the location.
“I let them know that I appreciate that they would put it up somewhere but that location was not acceptable,” Razer said.
“In response to a number of concerns, we made the decision to move the exhibit while we clarified and reviewed our internal process to make sure we were complying with state law,” said Mike Sutherland, DNR’s Deputy Director.
Razer said he spoke with the former museum director who retired in 2018 about the board discussing the exhibits before they are put on display.
“He said in his 24 years of running the museum, they had never gone to the Board of Public Buildings for approval on any exhibit that they were showing,” Razer said. “The DNR got complaints from homophobic legislators, they panicked, they pulled the exhibit, I called them out on it, and then the governor’s legal and public relations team had to scurry to find some excuse to why they took it down and the state statute is the only reason they could find.”
Razer said he has read through the last 12 years of the board’s minutes, which are posted on their website, and did not find one meeting where exhibits were discussed.
He wants to see the exhibit placed back in the Missouri State Museum or have every exhibit removed from the museum and each of them debated by the board.
DNR officials say the exhibit is open to the public at the Lohman Building, which is on Jefferson St., between the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol. It will be on display through Dec. 26.