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Smithsonian accepts archival material from Baltimore's LGBT community center

Old photographs, newspapers and other miscellaneous "gay pride ephemera" from the last half-century of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in Baltimore will be added on Tuesday to one of the nation's most esteemed museum collections.

Officials at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will accept the archival materials from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), and add them to its growing collection of items documenting LGBT history.

The collection is part of the museum's "mission to document the full breadth of the American experience," it said in announcing several new additions it will be accepting — including the original transgender pride flag and show scripts and other correspondence from the creators of the popular and long-running NBC sitcom "Will & Grace."

"The pursuit of civil rights in America is woven throughout our history," said John Gray, the museum's director, in a statement. "It is a tale of struggle and accomplishment as the nation strives to fulfill its ideals. We are grateful to our donors for assisting us to fulfill our mission to help the public understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future."

Dan McEvily, a spokesman for the GLCCB, said it is "thrilling" to see the organization's history become part of the storied collection of the Smithsonian.

The museum's total collection includes more than 3 million objects from across the American experience, including items that explore "the infinite richness and complexity of American history," it says. Its LGBT collection dates back to the 19th Century, and includes materials from the early gay rights movement as well as from groups that oppose gay rights — including the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.

The museum is located near the Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue in northwest Washington. Its LGBT collection has been displayed to commemorate various occasions, including anniversaries of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City against police harassment, which are widely considered to be a jumping-off point for broader gay rights activism in the country.

Kelly Neel, the GLCCB's acting executive director, was scheduled to sign a deed of gift at a ceremony with other donors on Tuesday. Also in attendance will be Monica Helms, the creater of the transgender pride flag; David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the creators of "Will & Grace."

Additionally, David Huebner and his spouse Duane McWaine will be in attendance. Huebner is the former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and was the first openly gay ambassador in the Obama administration. The couple are donating their diplomatic passports and other items to the museum's collection.

The GLCCB first began the process of preserving its archives in 2012, as it prepared to move out of its longtime home in Mount Vernon. At the time, its records were in disarray in the attic. An archives committee was formed, and the group began cataloging items, including back issues of what is now its Gay Life newspaper.

The GLCCB eventually brokered a deal to store and begin properly itemizing its archives at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library, with the collection focusing on Baltimore-centric items and history.

The items now going to the Smithsonian are either duplicates of what can be found at UB, or are items that aren't specifically relevant to Baltimore but are still historically significant within the nation's broader LGBT scope, McEvily said — such as early advertising and organizational materials from the National Association of LGBT Community Centers.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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