CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Donors, community leaders, project contributors and civic leaders gathered at the Levine Museum of the New South on Thursday this week to preview the museum’s new exhibit, “LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality.” The exhibit includes four installations exploring national, regional and local history as well as gender diversity.
“I’ve been working on this project for the last nine months and I think I realized in December is when I knew that this was going to be a reality,” Joshua Burford, an assistant director for sexual and gender diversity at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Multicultural Resource Center, told those gathered at the open house. “I was going to be responsible for doing something that was really scary — to try to snapshot a community’s history that is this complex and diverse.”
Burford has been the leading figure behind the new Charlotte LGBTQ Community Archive, an initiative to collect and preserve community history and hosted by UNC-Charlotte J. Murray Atkins Library’s Special Collections. The first product of that archival collection is displayed among the four Levine exhibits. “Publicly Identified: Coming Out Activist in the Queen City,” is an historical timeline including community accomplishments, milestones and landmark events from the 1940s to the present.
The community archive includes personal and organizational records, meeting minutes, posters, fliers and personal affects. A new website hosted by UNC-Charlotte for the history timeline also includes short oral histories from a variety of community members and leaders, both past and present.
Burford stressed the importance of documenting community history to preview attendees. At UNC-Charlotte, Burford teaches LGBT history courses, topics not always included in university, much less high school, curriculums.
“The very first thing that was obliterated from our community’s memory was our history,” Burford said. “It’s not taught in schools. High school students don’t get it. You have wait, if you’re lucky enough, to go to a university that has a faculty that’s interested in the history.”
Making that history visible is the first step in re-humanizing and re-exploring an intentionally de-humanized and erased history, Burford said.
“The first thing we do to bring a community together is to put our history visible, so people can see,” Burford said. “I think about how much isolation and invisibility has happened in our community in the last 150 years and how, for me, the timeline and the exhibits are the antidote to invisibility and isolation. We get to see ourselves reflected, potentially maybe for some of us for the very first time, in a way that’s not pandering, in a way that is diverse, in a way that highlights both our wins and our losses, our pain and our suffering, the good and the bad in the community.”
Three other exhibits in the larger suite include: “Gay America: From Kinsey to Stonewall,” exploring topics of national LGBT history; “Pauli Murray: Imp, Crusader, Dude, Priest,” exploring the life, work and regional history of Durham native Pauli Murray; and “Minding the Ts and Qs,” a photo exhibit exploring gender identity and expression.
Levine Museum of the New South President and CEO Emily Zimmern said the new exhibits will continue the museum’s mission of “inclusion, education, collaboration and scholarship.” The Levine is the first Charlotte museum to host any type of LGBT-related exhibit.
The timeline and three exhibits opened to the public on Friday.
The open house and exhibits’ presenting sponsor is PNC Bank, whose regional president told open house attendees was fully supportive of efforts to recapture history and push forward dialogue because “it’s just the right thing to do.”
“This exhibition is my hope the subject of the LGBTQ community becomes more commonplace at work and at home,” said PNC Bank’s Weston Andress. “It is another step forward in the struggle and celebration that many of us are only beginning to understand.”
Other sponsors include the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, the Arts & Science Council and The Charlotte Observer.
Civic leaders, community leaders and others present at the open house on Thursday included Levine Museum of the New South founder Sally Dalton Robinson and husband, attorney Russell Robinson, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dumont Clark, Charlotte Observer publisher Ann Caulkins and editor Rick Thames, LGBT philanthropist Wesley Mancini, former North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood and countless community leaders and visionaries including the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network’s Rev. Debbie Warren, UNC-Charlotte Professor Emeritus Bob Barrett, Time Out Youth founder Tonda Taylor and Charlotte’s first openly gay mayoral candidate Sue Henry, among others.