LGBTQ+ Pride and the White House

The White House has installed an exhibit dedicated to “celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021” on the Ground Floor Corridor. The exhibit is the first physical display of historical items dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The items were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution and in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum on American History.

The exhibit features artifacts from historic LGBTQ+ community figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Jerame Davis, the former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Another figure highlighted in the exhibit is Rose Cleveland, who was the sister of the 23rd and 25th President, Grover Cleveland.

“Rose Cleveland, President Grover Cleveland’s sister, served in the role of White House hostess until his marriage in 1886,” the exhibit reads. “For almost 30 years, Rose Cleveland maintained a romantic relationship with Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple. The women lived together in Italy from 1910, until Rose’s death from the Spanish flu in 1918.” The exhibit notes that Rose and Evangeline rest “side by side” in Italy today. Correspondence between them was published in 2019 by the Whipple Collection from the Minnesota Historical Society, where they are housed today.

There are artifacts describing major events in LGBTQ+ history such as the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Photos shared online show the corridor illuminated in Pride colors, the first known time in history, the Advocate reports.

LGBTQ+ activist, columnist and Philadelphia Gay News founder Mark Segal reported that upon visiting the National Museum this week, personal artifacts of his “from that first Pride in 1970, which we called Christopher Street Liberation Day March” were among those included in a series of items shared with the White House. The items included a flyer given out over 50 years ago promoting the march and Segal’s marshal badge worn that day. “That 18-year-old boy at Stonewall never expected that not only would he be asked to dance with his husband at the White House, but that one of his personal artifacts would be on display there,” Segal wrote. “Fifty-two years ago that was inconceivable to me. Now, it’s a joyous reality.”

The exhibit is curated from the LGBT Pride exhibits currently at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. One is the “Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” exhibition on display at the museum since 2019, and planned to close on July 6, 2021. The items I took he ongoing Smithsonian exhibit showcase different aspects of LGBTQ+ American history, activism and the “everyday experience of being queer,” according to curator Katherine Ott. The display includes knives used to lobotomize gay men during the ’70s, lab equipment from 1980s HIV researcher Jay Levy, a full figure skating costume from gay Olympian Brian Boitano, shoes from trans tennis player Renée Richards and cosmetics used by irreverent gay director John Waters.

LGBTQ+ Pride Month was established by President Bill Clinton in June 1999, though back then it was called Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Clinton said at the time that he signed the 1998 executive order that made it possible for people of any sexual orientation to work in the federal government and to receive security clearances. “Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration,” Clinton’s June 2000 proclamation stated.

The previous twice impeached, traitor’s administration did not even acknowledge Pride Month until 2019, and only half-heartedly then. In the first two and a half years of that administration, the former president took numerous steps to curtail LGBTQ+ rights, from nominating judges aligned with anti-gay hate groups to banning transgender people from the military. George W. Bush declined to recognize June as Pride Month during his eight year administration.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation every year he was in office. “All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Obama’s June 2015 proclamation read. “During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”

On June 25, President Biden declared “pride is back at the White House,” delivering remarks in a day of events intended to mark the contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans. He spoke after signing H.R. 49, which designates the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting as the “National Pulse Memorial.” Biden recognized that much work remains to be done to give equal rights and protections to LGBTQ Americans. The president invoked Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and said he was right when he said it “takes no compromise to give people their rights.” He called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

“When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something’s still wrong,” Biden said. “Over half of our states — in over half of our states, LBGTQ+ Americans still lack explicit state-level civil rights protections to shield them from discrimination. As I said as a presidential candidate and in my first joint address to Congress, it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on my desk. On my desk.” 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke before the president was introduced, and both the secretary and Biden gave a shout-out to Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten. “Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Buttigieg said. Also at the Friday afternoon ceremony were members of the Congressional Equality Congress, including Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman David Cicilline; one of the highest-ranking openly trans service members, Lieutenant-Colonel Bree Fram; and state legislators.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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