June 28, 2021
By Erica Jaros

June 28 commemorates the Stonewall Uprising, when members of the gay community started a week-long protest in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan in 1969. Since then, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community has become a significant part of American culture. Many museum and library staff members participate in local Pride parades and host events at their institution throughout the month of June. But more importantly, they play a key role in sharing LGBTQ history, providing resources, and building awareness in the local community.

Audience watching a speaker inside a library building.
Photo courtesy of the Gulfport Public Library. The Gulfport Public Library LGBTQ Resource Center hosts a TransTalk event in 2018.

While the Palmer-Warner House in East Haddam, Connecticut may trace its origins to a 18th century blacksmithing family, it also provides insight into gay rural life during the mid-20th century. Connecticut Landmarks received a 2018 Museums for America grant to develop an interpretive plan for Palmer-Warner House, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country to focus on interpreting LGBTQ history.

During the time Frederic Palmer and his partner, Howard Metzger, lived in the house, homosexuality was illegal in the state—the American Psychiatric Association considered it a mental illness until 1973. The historic home is fortunate to have numerous diaries, letters, and photo albums detailing their lives from the mid-1940s until Palmer’s death in 1971. According to their website, the Palmer-Warner House is envisioned as a “setting to share multiple viewpoints, encourage visitors to share and document their own history, and foster conversations around inclusion, individuality, privacy, and privilege.”

It is not only important to understand a community’s history, but also their unique needs.

The University of South Carolina has been working on how libraries impact the health-related information needs and practices of individuals within LGBTQIA+ communities. In 2018 they received a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant to position public libraries as community anchors that can understand the health-related information needs and develop inclusive services, spaces, and collections for the LGBTQIA+ community. They partnered with the South Carolina State and Richland Libraries to conduct interviews, community forums, and focus groups.

In 2020, the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina received funding from the Community Catalyst Initiative to explore how library and information science research and medical library partnerships can advise LGBTQIA+ community health workers. Through these partnerships, medical libraries can engage in information interventions for health promotion within underserved LGBTQIA+ communities that experience significant health challenges.

The Gulfport Public Library, which received an IMLS National Medal in 2019, serves a small town of approximately 12,000 residents with a disproportionately large LGBTQ population. The library has made serving that community a top priority through its LGBTQ Resource Center, the first of its kind in Florida. With an LGBTQIA+ film series, a newsletter, and various LGBTQ-centered collections and archives, the center also holds numerous well-attended events throughout the year—from an annual Pride flag raising and weekly Pride events to monthly programming. Powered by a committee of highly engaged community members, the LGBTQ Resource Center is integral to the fabric of Gulfport.

In 2018, the library hosted seventeen LGBTQ-related programs with 1400 attendees. One of the library’s many events featured teenagers from the “Out of the Shadows” program who were invited to speak about their experiences as homeless LGBTQ teens.

From developing relevant collections to hosting constructive discussions and providing support to LGBTQIA+ individuals, museums and libraries are demonstrating a commitment to uniting everyone in their community.