New exhibit brings unique twist to LGBT history
by Angela Thomas
Feb 06, 2014 | 1156 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Starting next week, the Library Company of Philadelphia will stage a groundbreaking exhibition looking at national LGBT history.

“That’s So Gay: Outing Early America,” which will run Feb. 10-Oct. 17, will trace LGBT history by looking at possible LGBT historical figures and their artistic works, including novels, poetry, art and other cultural contributions.

The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, was curated by Cornelia King, chief of reference and curator of women’s history at the Library Company.

“That’s So Gay” does not specifically declare whether historical figures would be considered LGBT in today’s terms, but instead documents evidence of those who were in same-sex relationships and pushed back against gender norms and expectations.

King said she had been striving to make The Library Company of Philadelphia a source for LGBT history, and the idea for the exhibit arose last year after local LGBT activist John Cunningham came into The Library Company looking for a space for an exhibit on the Annual Reminders, 1960s gay-rights protests in front of Independence Hall.

“He was looking for the right space for a 2015 exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of first protest in July 1965 and he thought of us because here we are in the middle of the city’s Gayborhood,” she said. “However, we don’t have things that document gay activism but it occurred to me that we could do a prequel exhibition and help the 2015 exhibit get attention for what they are planning.”

“That’s So Gay” currently holds 100 pieces in 10 different sections.

King used many different historical figures in the exhibit but said it was Walt Whitman and Harriet Hosmer who resonated the most with her.

“They both serve as a focal point answering the question, Was it gay?” she said. “With Whitman, we have the Calamus poems, where he is talking about the love of comrades and so I sort of look at that kind of language at a time when you don’t have people with specific gay identities that they articulate. I think of it as not so much the love that doesn’t have a name, but I look for these elements in language.”

King said she hopes the exhibit serves as another catalyst for LGBT research.

“I am trying to make it so that people come to The Library Company and do more studying in this area. We want to be the go-to place for recovering LGBT history.”

There will be an opening reception for the exhibit at 5 p.m. Feb. 14 at The Library Company, 1314 Locust St., followed by discussion “What is Sex For?” at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St., with David M. Halperin, theorist and author of “How to Be Gay.”

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