CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time in the city’s history, a local museum will showcase an exhibit exploring national, regional and local LGBT history. The exhibit, “LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality,” opens on July 25 and runs through January at the Levine Museum of the New South and is a collaboration with several organizations and initiatives.
“We get to work in a way that we’re known for — collaboration,” Kate Baillon, Levine vice president of exhibits, explains. “We get to work with a lot of members in the community to pull together this story and look at it through different lenses.”
The exhibit, comprised of four smaller exhibits, tackles national LGBT history in the “Out of the Shadows: Gay America from Kinsey to Stonewall” exhibit. Regionally, an exhibit on southern activist Pauli Murray will explore her work as a civil rights lawyer, poet, author and first African-American female Episcopal priest. An artistic exhibit, “Minding the Ts and Qs: Gender Identity,” will allow visitors to explore gender and themselves.
But, it’s the fourth exhibit that might hold the most meaning for local LGBT community members. “Publicly Identified: Coming Out Activist in the Queen City” will be the first local history timeline and exhibit to ever explore the accomplishments and history of Charlotte’s local LGBT community.
The local exhibit is the first byproduct of work done for nearly two years by University of North Carolina-Charlotte staffer Joshua Burford. He and others at the university library’s Special Collections have been collecting items for the new Charlotte LGBTQ Community Archive — items they have used to compile the timeline and present it in exhibit form for the next six months.
Burford says the timelines shows a side of Charlotte few have ever seen.
“It’s a full spectrum community, not a tiny place struggling to make it,” Burford says. “It’s a place that has been public and visible for a really long time and now people will get to see what it looks like.”
The timeline begins in the 1940s and carries through more than a half century of history. But, it’s all just a fraction of the enormous material Burford says has already been collected for the new community archive. Local community members have been quick to help preserve their history.
Burford — who moved to Charlotte in 2012 — is a newcomer to the city. He says he takes his role as community archivist seriously. It’s scary and humbling he says, and he’s been amazed at the amount of material the archive has already collected.
“There’s so much,” he says. “I expected to get a large amount of material. What I didn’t expect was the complexity. Charlotte hasn’t lagged behind the nation. In fact it has been leading the South. The amount of history has been overwhelming.”
The timeline does have some holes, though. Burford was “determined,” he says, to ensure the timeline exhibit included all portions of the LGBT community. He found mentions of bisexual history and transgender history, though he wishes more could have been included. He hopes the exhibit will inspire others to step forward with materials for the archive.
It’s Burford’s hope that the exhibit will not only educate, but empower. Charlotte has had many big victories in its LGBT history and he sees more on the horizon. As visitors leave the exhibit, Burford wants them to yearn for more.
Levine staffers, too, want to inspire action, education and conversation.
“I’m most excited about the opportunity to open up dialogue,” says Janeen Bryant, the Levine Museum’s vice president of education.
And, over the next six months, Burford says the exhibit will prove all the naysayers wrong.
“Charlotte was overlooked because people didn’t imagine we could do this sort of work in the Carolinas,” he says. “‘They’ll do something, but it won’t be much,’ was the expectation. But, we did a lot of other stuff just because we could. We’re constantly defying expectations.”
more: Learn more about the upcoming set of exhibits, “LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality,” open July 25-Jan. 25, at museumofthenewsouth.org. : :