The MoHistorical Society (MHS) Gateway to Pride Initiative has achieved a big win and is receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to preserve the history the St. Louis LGBTQ+ community and its people. 

In 2013 MHS began a collaboration with the St. Louis LGBT History Project, which was created by community advocate Steven Brawley in 2007. This collaboration allowed MHS to launch the then-named “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative.” 

Numerous advocates have recognized the “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative” as the St. Louis region’s first mainstream LGBTQIA+ effort by a large historical institution. 

In 2020, the MHS “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative” became the “Gateway to Pride Initiative,” and in 2021 MHS launched a new virtual exhibit Gateway to Pride which shares and makes accessible online stories of the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ experience.

“For nearly a decade the Missouri Historical Society team has fostered relationships with the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Dr. Frances Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society.

“We have built collections of artifacts, library and archival materials and oral histories that tell the story of the LGBTQIA+ community experience and fight for recognition and rights in St. Louis. The website that we launched in 2020 has made some of those items accessible to the public, but there is so much more work to do to document the contributions of LGBTQIA+  people to the history of St. Louis. This generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities will aid us in our mission to add diverse experiences and untold stories to our oral history collections and strengthen our Gateway to Pride Initiative as we work toward a major special exhibit in 2024.” 

The grant will support the work of Dr. Ian Darnell, Curatorial Assistant for the Gateway to Pride Initiative as he continues conducting oral histories and assisting with the artifact acquisition process which includes research, donor cultivation, cataloging, and creating public access to collections.  

“Hired by the Missouri Historical Society in November 2019 to work explicitly with the Gateway to Pride Initiative, Dr. Ian Darnell brings a wealth of knowledge about St. Louis LGBTQIA+ communities to the project,” said Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity for the Missouri Historical Society. 

“A large portion of the initiative is collecting oral histories. When the COVID-19 pandemic made collecting oral histories in person impossible, Ian adapted and was able to conduct the work remotely, recording oral histories via Zoom, ensuring that the work continued. His contributions to this initiative are invaluable and will aid MHS enormously in MHS bringing the long-awaited special exhibit to fruition in 2024.”  

The exhibit is a milestone step and the second phase in the larger initiative.  

The NEH grant will fund MHS’s existing full-time LGBTQIA+ Curatorial Assistant; the addition of three paid, part-time graduate internships; cover contract videography and photography associated with the initiative; and allow for public access to the LGBTQIA+ collections through an existing digital exhibit and the MHS online collections.

Gateway to Pride was originally planned as a small gallery show to be on display at the Missouri History Museum in 2020. MHS pivoted the introductory exhibit to a virtual experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The online exhibit is a milestone step in MHS’s larger Gateway to Pride Initiative and serves as a call to action for visitors to share their stories and contribute to MHS’s growing knowledge of LGBTQIA+ history.  

Stories and artifacts submitted as part of the online exhibit and the research and collections work supported by the NEH grant could be included in an upcoming major special exhibit at the Missouri History Museum. 

MHS is currently developing a 6,000-square-foot exhibit exploring St. Louis’s LGBTQIA+ history, scheduled to open at the Missouri History Museum in 2024 and run through the 10th anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. 

ABOUT THE MISSOURI HISTORICAL SOCIETY GATEWAY TO PRIDE INITIATIVE  

MHS has spent the last decade working to expand its collection of LGBTQIA+ materials, collect new stories and artifacts, grow relationships within the LGBTQIA+ community, and offer a variety of LGBTQIA+ programming and events to the public. 

In 2013 MHS began a collaboration with the St. Louis LGBT History Project, which was created by community advocate Steven Brawley in 2007. This collaboration allowed MHS to launch the then-named “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative.” Numerous advocates have recognized the “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative” as the St. Louis region’s first mainstream LGBTQIA+ effort by a large historical institution. In 2020, the MHS “LGBTQ Collecting Initiative” became the “Gateway to Pride Initiative,” and in 2021 MHS launched a new virtual exhibit Gateway to Pride which shares and makes accessible online stories of the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ experience. The exhibit is a milestone step and the second phase in the larger initiative.  

The initiative is divided into four phases: the LGBTQIA+ collecting initiative (ongoing, launched in 2015); Gateway to Pride introductory exhibit (originally scheduled for June–October 2020, pivoted to a virtual format that opened in January 2021 due to COVID-19); major exhibit (scheduled to open in 2024 at the Missouri History Museum); and developing an endowment for sustained collections care, accessibility, and public programming (in perpetuity).  

The Missouri Historical Society was recognized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) with the inaugural Award for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2017, received the Advocate for Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2019 and was an inaugural St. Louis Business Journal Business of Pride Award winner in 2021. Today over 100 members of LGBTQIA+ communities serve on the MHS Gateway to Pride Initiative as advisors and ambassadors.  

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES 

 Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

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