As the fight for LGBTQ equality continues to move forward, a movement is underway to preserve the stories of the past. Chris Rudisill, Executive Director of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Florida joins Robert Traynham to discuss the importance of preserving this history to build a heritage for future generations. This discussion continues in part 2 (Preserving LGBTQ History).
Interview recorded on May 17, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 1 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: From the Stonewall Riots to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on gay marriage, the LGBTQ rights movement has a rich history spanning decades. The Stonewall National Museum and Archives aims to capture and showcase this history. Executive Director Chris Rudisill joins me to discuss. Chris, why is it so important to preserve this history?
Rudisill: So, you know, as we see LGBT equality continue to move forward, we realize that our stories are the most important. Not only do they help build a heritage for future generations of LGBTQ teens and young people, but they’re also kind of, you know, our toolbox against oppression. As we continue to face battles against equal rights, we can look toward our history to learn and use those lessons as kind of…
Traynham: What is that cliché? You know, “Use history as your guide for the future,” clearly?
Rudisill: Exactly. If we don’t learn from history, we’re bound to repeat it and make more horrible mistakes.
Traynham: Absolutely, Chris. Before we go a little bit deeper in this interview — by the way, thank you very much for joining us — I have an odd question.
Rudisill: [ Chuckles ]
Traynham: So, based on my history, that I understand it, Stonewall obviously was — took place in New York in the Village.
Traynham: But the museum that you are the executive director of is in Florida.
Traynham: Is there a disconnect there? [ Chuckles ]
Rudisill: No, not really. I think it’s a lot of LGBT migration, in a way.
Traynham: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Rudisill: But we got our start in 1973 from a guy at South Florida University who saw the importance of collecting and preserving our history, and he started collecting books. And then, years later, he joined with the Southern Gay Archive, and we became the National Library and Archives. The original collection was used as a tool for folks manning or staffing gay and lesbian hotlines and suicide hotlines. So they were used as a resource. And the collection has continued to grow. But as people tend to migrate in their older years, they tend to migrate South. And South Florida is a hot spot for LGBT people. They often bring their things with them, so we’re able to collect a rich history from across the country and preserve it there in South Florida.
Traynham: Very good to know. In the few moments that we have left, Chris, I want to talk about the Orlando 49 Project. Specifically, what is that?
Rudisill: When the Orlando tragedy happened, just over a year ago…
Traynham: This is the Pulse nightclub, for those of who do not know.
Rudisill: Yes, Pulse nightclub tragedy. We realized that, you know, our goal was to make sure that we preserve the authentic story of that event. You know, it specifically targeted two groups of two communities in our country — both the LGBTQ community and the Latinx community. And we wanted to make sure that authentic story was continued to be told. Through the Orlando 49 Project, we’ve taken memorial archives that we’ve received from across the globe, that followed the Orlando tragedy, and also photos and documentation. And we’ve created an education program that will go out to middle schools and high schools across the nation, that not only documents the tragedy but puts it into context of, you know, hate crimes across the countries and across our American history. It puts it in the context there, but also shows kids how they can make a difference today. We give them real tools on how they can make a difference in their schools, in their communities, and, hopefully, in the world.