Arts & Culture News

A Dallas Holocaust Museum Exhibition Chronicles the LGBTQ Rights Movement

The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum's new exhibition Rise Up  examines the history of LGBTQ rights in America.
The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum's new exhibition Rise Up examines the history of LGBTQ rights in America. Courtesy of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum
The LGBTQ movement may feel newer for the average person because of more recent advancements  — such as the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, which requires that all states recognize same-sex marriages, and the 2010 repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy — but its roots run deep in America's history.

The struggle for LGBTQ equality has had many landmark moments, such as the Stonewall Riots of 1969, an uprising that took place over six days of protests and became a pivotal rallying point for the movement that was ignited by the New York City Police Department's violent raid of the Stonewall Inn.

A new exhibition opening on Wednesday at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will take in-person and virtual visitors through the struggles, suppression and success of LGBTQ rights surrounding the events of Stonewall. On display at the museum until June 18, Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement was developed by the nonpartisan First Amendment foundation Freedom Forum.

Along with the special exhibition, the museum (300 N. Houston St.) will host adjacent programs to further explore the effect of LGBTQ rights, including a talk on transgender rights on May 2 and a series of testimonials from local  people impacted by the movement with Voices of LGBTQ+ Dallas on June 7.

The exhibition includes 85 artifacts, three films and several interactive presentations and documentations. The walkthrough attraction takes visitors through the history of the fight for equal rights going as far back as the 1940s to the present day with "lots of content for visitors to come and get immersed in its history in a really inviting way," says the museum's president and chief executive officer, Mary Pat Higgins.

"It starts with the protests at Stonewall in June of 1969 and how that really ignited and emboldened the LGTBQ rights movements and moved forward up until 2015 with the Obergefell case," Higgins says. "It shows the tremendous drive the LGBTQ community has made over the years."

The exhibition covers some of the movement's earliest organizations for LGBTQ rights in America going back to the 1940s and '50s with groups like The Society for Human Rights, founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago.

Some of the artifacts on display include the gavel used in 2010 by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring openly gay and lesbian service members, a preserved gay pride flag used in the first gay pride march in Chicago in 1970, and Jim Obergefell and John Arthur's wedding rings for the couple's Maryland wedding, which led to the repeal of same-sex marriage bans across the country. 
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After viewing Rise Up, you should also stick around to walk around the museum, which is impressively high-tech and comprehensive.
Courtesy of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum
"We've been excited about it because we cover some of this history in our Pivot to America gallery," Higgins says. "We look at the evolution of rights for different citizens, and one of them is the rights of LGBTQ people, but it only scratches the surface. This exhibition really gives us a deeper understanding and provides much more historical context."

The response to the new exhibition has been overwhelmingly positive, and the museum has seen only minimal backlash.

"That's kind of par for the course," Higgins says. "We haven't definitely had any overarching negative feedback at this point. There's a lot of excitement that we're covering this history. When you talk about history, there will always be someone with differing opinions about things."

The museum's chief education officer, Dr. Sara Abosch Jacobson, says The Rise Up exhibition is also about exercising the rights of American citizens to participate in democratic traditions to enact changes for equality. 

"The democratic process in America is who we are, and we the people are the reason it succeeds or fails," Jacobson says. "Looking at this particular group of America is one small part of many groups of Americans we look at in the museum, and all Americans need to work together to repair our process. Our history, warts and all, is our history but it's not our fate. Our future is what we make of it." 
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The gavel used by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to usher in the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2010.
Courtesy of theDallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum Museum
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Through June 18, visitors at the Dallas Holocaust Museum can learn about the history of LGBTQ activism in the U.S.
Courtesy of Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.

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