Proposed federal legislation could add LGBTQI+ history and culture to the Smithsonian Institution’s museum tapestry.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, introduced two bills in late October that would begin the process of creating a National Museum of American LGBTQI+ History and Culture. Both bills would need to be signed into law to create the museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The first bill would establish a commission consisting of eight people with backgrounds in museum planning or LGBTQI+ research and culture. This commission would then have 18 months to research and generate its recommendations.
According to a Pocan press release, the commission would be required to:
- “Report recommendations for a plan of action for the establishment and maintenance of a National Museum of American LGBTQI+ History and Culture.”
- “Develop a fundraising plan to support the establishment, operation and maintenance of the museum through public contributions.”
- “Obtain an independent review of this fundraising plan, including an analysis of the resources necessary to fund the construction of the museum and its operations and maintenance without reliance on federal funds.”
- “Report on the availability and cost of acquiring collections for the museum, identify potential locations for the facility in Washington, D.C., and determine its regional impact on other museums.”
- “Submit to Congress a legislative plan of action to establish and construct the museum.”
The Smithsonian, “the world’s largest museum, education and research complex,” currently has 21 museums and the National Zoo. Many of these museums surround the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Congress could take up the second bill once the commission’s work is complete and recommendations are issued. This bill would establish the museum.
Pocan told States Newsroom that considering the impact and popularity of the Smithsonian museums, it would be an important step to have one for members of the LGBTQI+ community.
“It would be great to have one for LGBTQI+ individuals to really talk about the history within the United States, but make sure we don’t repeat some of the mistakes in the past either,” he said.
In a press release, Pocan said it is “vital to remember our collective past,” especially at a time when lawmakers across the nation “seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing laws that harm LGBTQI+ youth and our community at large.”
In recent years, there have been increasing numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking over 500 bills from the 2023 legislative session that target LGBTQ+ rights.
“As our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history, we must preserve and protect our stories for future generations,” Pocan said in the press release.
From Stonewall to historical measures around marriage equality, there are all kinds of stories to honor in a Smithsonian museum, Pocan told States Newsroom. The Stonewall riots began June 28, 1969, after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. It is considered a pivotal moment in the fight for gay rights in the U.S.
“And honestly, right now, I think we might be another one of those periods with more attacks in Congress and state legislatures on the community,” Pocan said.
He said these recent attacks “will probably be part of what we look back at someday and look at the discrimination that some people are trying to put onto people simply for who they love.”
Pocan’s legislation arrives as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican who has long opposed same-sex marriage, has just taken office.
When asked if he was concerned about the future of this legislation under Johnson’s speakership, Pocan said he thinks it is “to be determined.”
“I’m hoping that this won’t have to be an exhibit in the museum of more recent attacks,” Pocan said. “I’m hoping that he will govern as speaker of the House, which means he represents Democrats as well as Republicans as speaker, and that he won’t continue to take Congress down a path just where his personal beliefs may be.”
All eight openly LGBTQI+ co-chairs of the Equality Caucus joined Pocan in introducing the legislation.
These members include Democratic Reps. Mark Takano of California, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Robert Garcia of California, Becca Balint of Vermont, Ritchie Torres of New York, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Angie Craig of Minnesota and Eric Sorensen of Illinois.
Pocan said it was important to be inclusive when introducing his legislation.
“Our mere presence in Congress is, in some ways, part of that history, and trying to make sure that we have a seat at the table where decisions are being made,” Pocan said. “So it’s important that every single person could be a part of that.”
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.
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