Interview with the Cofounder of Revealing Queer at MOHAI
Awareness and support for the Puget Sound’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community has surged in recent years. Marriage equality and Seattle electing its first openly gay mayor demonstrate the forward momentum. The Museum of History and Industry’s (MOHAI) current exhibit,Revealing Queer, is encouraging future progress via a celebration and recognition of the past.
“One of the main goals is for people to fall back in love with this city because of the LGBTQ communities who’ve lived here over the past 40 years,” said Erin Bailey, curator ofRevealing Queer. “There are still fights to be fought, but there are resources here to do it. That is what’s important to remember and what people will get from the exhibition.”Erin Bailey, curator of Revealing Queer exhibit
Revealing Queeris unique nationally. Few mainstream museums have chosen to host LGBTQ-focused history exhibits. According to Bailey, MOHAI is the first Washington history museum. With colleague Nicole Robert, Bailey cofoundedQueering the Museum Projectto advocate for museums to incorporate and feature LGBTQ history. A positive reaction to MOHAI’s exhibit will hopefully encourage other institutions.
Bailey, a University of Washington graduate, spoke withThe Seattle Lesbianabout what makesRevealing Queera must-see and why everyone benefits from learning about this aspect of local history.
In what ways can museums inspire dialogues and open minds?
I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. It wasn’t the most diverse place I’ve ever seen and it didn’t have a ton of access to culture. Going to museums was an awakening. It introduced me to the world as a whole and the idea that more was happening than just what I saw at my house or high school. There is a whole global community.
What inspiredRevealing Queer?
When I began assessing museums with a mature approach, I realized that (as part of the LGBTQ community) my history wasn’t represented and I couldn’t grow from learning about it. I wanted to contribute to a conversation about why that wasn’t happening and how we could address it in an equitable way.
What is your definition of queer?
There are lots of different ways to think about queer. It’s an identity, a theory and a political mentality. In regards to theory, it opens up a conversation about anyone who deviates from any kind of norm whether it’s sexual, gender or ideological. People don’t fit into easy categories. As an identity, it’s talking about sexuality beyond gender definitions. Politically, it’s radical but not radical. It’s not a big F-you statement toThe Man. It’s a very specific, “No, thank you” toThe Man.Visitors engage with the MOHAI’s Revealing Queer exhibit
What does the exhibition include?
It covers about 1973 – which arguably marks the area’s first, unofficial pride protests – to present day with Ed Murray being Seattle’s first openly gay mayor. We broke it into five broad themes. First, we engage withLanguageso people can understand what we’re talking about. We knew using the word “queer” was going raise some eyebrows. What does it mean to be queer?Spaces and Placescovers community resources, gay bars as political and communal spaces, places of activism and more.Celebrationstalks about pride, but also the other popular events that happen throughout the region that people might not know about.Lived Experiencediscusses the iconic people who were game-changers in this region. They set the pace for what we’re doing, how our politics work and even how immigration considers these issues. Finally,Regional Law and Policyhas a lot of content because it covers so much that has happened in the last 40 years.
How was the content and focus developed?
We used a Community Advisory Committee model. There were 12 groups such as the Ingersoll Gender Center, the Gay City Health Project, Queer Youth Space and more. The committee developed the narrative and what they felt should or didn’t need to be included. There were some great discussions.
What do you hope both the LGBTQ community and others learn fromRevealing Queer?
We designed it so it really is for everybody. The goal is to make connections for everyone. Anybody can be a mother regardless of who you love or how you identify. Anybody can be a political activist. Anybody can emigrate from a different country. All those themes are in the exhibit and are relatable and help bridge everyone’s experiencesVisitors engage with the MOHAI’s Revealing Queer exhibit
For some people, sexuality is their main understanding of what it means to identify as LGBTQ. Do you hope to dispel that?
The queer identity is about more than sexuality. I didn’t want to have a “Mature Audience” disclaimer – and there isn’t. Yes, there is the sexual aspect [of being LGBTQ], but that’s just one part of who we are. We also have all these other gifts and skills to offer like anyone else does. I want to encourage people to find the part of queer identities that intersects with their own.
Do you think visitors will be surprised by the richness and depth of the area’s LGBTQ history?
So much has happened in last 40 years and it’s really impressive. People in this region made initiatives and started things that had an amazing impact. I think the exhibition helps people understand Seattle’s role in the national context and how progressive we’ve always been as a city. We had the first mental health clinic in the country for LGBTQ people. We had first drop-in youth center that wasn’t associated with a university. The Ingersoll Gender Center was one of the nation’s first transgender centers and has been functioning for over 30 years. Seattle was dealing with AIDS before it was identified as AIDS. This city has been in the trenches of the gay rights movement for the past 40 years.
Revealing Queerruns through July 6, 2014. For Family Pride Day, MOHAI will offer all-ages activities Saturday, June 28, 10 a.m.