Gay History on Display at Library of Congress

by  Justin Ocean | May 10, 2011
Pride / BalkansCat/iStock

First, DADT gets repealed. Then Obama says he won’t defend DOMA. Now the Library of Congress has added two key documents in the struggle for gay rights to its popular “Creating the United States” exhibit. Sure, they’re already archiving all our breathless tweets about our day-to-gay-day and everything about and by the Beibs, but this is another level. Who’s got Pride? The US Government’s got Pride! Okay okay, overstated, yes. We’ve still got a long way to go for full equality, but an exhibition like this shows just how far we’ve come.

Joining documents on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – framing them as living, breathing instruments to the advancement and evolution of our country – are a 1961 petition to the Supreme Court by pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny (pictured left) in which he argued that his firing by the Army’s Map Service was an “affront to human dignity” (sound familiar?) and U.S. Civil Service Chairman John W. Macy, Jr.'s infamous 1966 letter to The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. in which he claimed “revulsion” as grounds for justified LGBT discrimination in the Civil Service, a key piece of evidence in the 2010 case against Proposition 8. Seen by more than 1.5 million people since it opened three years ago, this exhibit is no small potatoes.

“Telling America’s story and creating a more perfect union are impossible without sharing these testaments to our nation’s gay civil rights story," says Bob Witeck, a co-founder of Kameny Papers Project, donor of the letters. It’s the first time the history of gay and lesbian Americans has been recognized on such an official national and institutional level. The two documents are displayed accompanying the first rendition of the Constitution for blind readers; a suffragist’s scrapbook with material about Susan B. Anthony; and a drawing of African-Americans registering to vote on the steps of the Selma, AL courthouse.

To riff on Philadelphia’s popular tourism slogan, now’s the time to get your history and your nightlife gay. Capital Pride ( kicks off June 2 through 12 with a series of panels, parades, and of course parties. Save on lodging with a room at one of seven Kimpton properties ( – my fave is the '30s French Moderne styled Hotel Palomar – using its fifth-annual “Summer of Pride” package, which includes a 15 percent discount on best available rate for deluxe accommodations, a $25 dining credit, and a Pride-themed welcome gift. Valid from Thursday to Sunday through September 5; code PRIDE.

“Creating the United States” is on view through October 2011 in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Click here to plan your visit and check out our Washington DC Travel Guide for general trip-planning info.

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