Missouri Relocates Gay History Exhibit From State Capitol

On Monday, a traveling exhibit about gay history began a planned four-month display in the Missouri Capitol. By Wednesday night, it was gone.

The exhibit, created by historians at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was supposed to be in the Capitol building’s Missouri State Museum until the end of the year, said State Senator Greg Razer, a Democrat. But the display, which explored the gay rights movement in Kansas City, was quietly removed by the state authorities this week in a decision that drew widespread attention.

In the few days it was up, visitors to the Capitol could walk among the exhibit’s banners, which stood prominently in a main hallway, and learn how L.G.B.T.Q. people had organized in Kansas City and later created a group that fostered a community of gay people in the city.

Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, said in a statement on Friday afternoon that the exhibit organizers had violated a state law that required them to coordinate with the state’s Board of Public Buildings, a three-member panel that includes the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general.

Ms. Jones said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which runs the museum, had taken down the exhibit. She said the governor “was not aware of the display” until he received several complaints about it. It was not clear if the panel had directed that the exhibit be removed.

The state authorities take months to select, vet and display traveling exhibits in the museum, which features a rotating cast of exhibitions alongside its permanent ones, Mr. Razer said.

In a statement on Friday night, the Natural Resources Department said it would relocate the exhibit to a building at the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, where the Missouri State Museum has another location. The exhibit will open on Saturday.

“We apologize for the way this unfolded,” Dru Buntin, the department director, said in the statement. “We agree the history of all Missourians is an important story that needs to be told.”

The Missouri State Capitol Commission, which maintains the Capitol building, will coordinate the exhibit in the new location instead of the Board of Public Buildings, the statement said.

Mr. Razer, who is openly gay, called the decision to remove the display from the Capitol “unacceptable.”

“To have this exhibit ripped down and shoved in a closet is offensive,” he said in an interview on Friday afternoon before state officials announced that the exhibit would be relocated.

Mr. Razer, who grew up in Pemiscot County, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald J. Trump for president last year, was excited that L.G.B.T.Q. children who would visit the museum this school year would see an exhibit that made them feel welcome in the Capitol. Now, he’s concerned about the message the state authorities have sent to those young people in taking down the banners.

“I want them to know that this is a beautiful, vibrant, accepting community that wants you here,” he said. “Stunts like this don’t help.”

John Cunning, a former director of the museum, said on Friday that he was “befuddled” by the state’s rationale that the exhibit had been taken down because the Board of Public Buildings was not involved in approving it. Mr. Cunning oversaw the museum for 24 years.

“Never in that time did I have to get permission from the Board of Public Buildings to put up an exhibit,” he said, adding that he had “never had any dealings with the board.”

Mr. Razer said the governor’s reasoning “seemed like a convenient excuse.”

Before the exhibit was taken down, at least two Republican state representatives and a legislative assistant said they were opposed to its display in the Capitol.

State Representative Brian Seitz said in an interview on Friday that he had called the museum director about the “odd timing” of the display, saying that it would “cause division” at a time when the country “needs unity.”

Mr. Seitz added that State Representative Ann Kelley had also contacted the director about the exhibit. A spokeswoman for Ms. Kelley declined to comment.

Mr. Razer said if state lawmakers were uncomfortable with discussions about L.G.B.T.Q. rights, “then that is their problem to overcome.”

“We can’t brush over the parts of history that we don’t want to see,” he said.


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