Missouri State Senator Demands Answers After LGBTQ Exhibit Removed From State Capitol
Missouri state park officials have relocated an LGBTQ exhibit that caused outcry when it was removed from the state capitol earlier this week.
The exhibit will now be displayed at the Lohman Building, a part of the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site. The building is located near the state capitol.
Missouri State Sen. Greg Razer, an openly gay lawmaker from Kansas City, said the relocation was a step down from the capitol.
“Sounds like we’ve been moved from the broom closet to a walk-in closet. Better, but still a closet,” Razer said in a text message to KCUR. “The Lohman Building sure ain’t the Capitol rotunda.”
State park officials said in a statement that they moved the exhibit from the Missouri State Museum after the department received complaints.
In an earlier statement, the department said it removed the display after failing to coordinate use of the capitol’s space with the Board of Public Buildings, as required by state statute.
On Friday, it said the exhibit was moved while the department reviewed its internal process to make sure it was complying with the law.
“We apologize for the way this unfolded,” Dru Buntin, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said. “We agree the history of all Missourians is an important story that needs to be told, and we’ve made a commitment to work with the members of the State Capitol Commission and the Board of Public Buildings to do so.”
The department said that review of the museum’s guidance found that similarly loaned exhibits were often housed at Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.
Razer said he was disappointed that the department was put into the position to remove the display by “extremists in the legislature.”
Complaints over the LGTBQ exhibit
The exhibit titled “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” was recently invited to display at the Missouri State Museum on the first floor of the Capitol. The project, created by University of Missouri-Kansas City students, documented decades of local gay activism.
Razer said he was “appalled” to find the exhibit had been removed just days after it was installed.
“The history of LGBT Missourians is the history of Missouri,” said Razer. “This is the story that tells how we got from that point to me serving in that building. Colleagues of mine that I work with, and apparently the state parks department, decided that that was an offensive story to tell.”
Razer said he believed the parks department, which oversees the museum, removed the exhibit in response to political pressure from other legislators.
Connie Patterson, a spokesperson from the Department of Natural Resources, said in an email that the department had not followed a state statute that requires it to coordinate museum-related activities with the Board of Public Buildings. Since the mandated process was not followed, the department removed the display.
Patterson also wrote that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who sits on the board, was not aware of the exhibit until his office received multiple complaints.
House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade released a statement on Friday accusing Parson of lying about the reasons behind the display’s removal.
“The statutory procedure the governor says wasn’t followed for approving exhibits does not exist. State law authorizes the Board of Public Buildings to allocate space to the museum but gives the board no power to determine the content of exhibits, and there is no evidence the board has ever done so,” Quade wrote.
A review of the board’s meeting minutes going back to 2012 show the board has not discussed matters relating to museum exhibits.
Uriah Stark, a legislative aide for state Rep. Mitch Boggs, a Republican from LaRussell, posted a complaint about the exhibit on Facebook on Tuesday.
“So is there any good reason that our taxpayer funded museum is pushing the LGBT agenda in our state capitol?” Stark wrote. “These are literally in-your-face banners that you can’t walk through the museum without seeing … and they’re scheduled to be there through December.”
On Wednesday, Stark wrote a post celebrating that the exhibit had been removed, crediting state Rep. Ann Kelley and Rep. Brian Seitz, both of whom are Republicans. Kelley has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Seitz told KCUR that he had only called the museum's director once, but had not heard back. He said he wanted to know why the exhibit was allowed, and if there was an agenda behind doing so. With school children often visiting the capitol at this time, he said he was worried if the exhibit's content is appropriate.
Seitz said he had not visited the exhibit in person, and had only seen photos on Facebook.
Razer said, “I have looked at what was in this exhibit. There is absolutely nothing, nothing inappropriate about what was in this exhibit. Unless you simply want to shove me, and people like me, back in the closet."
Razer said the only agenda that he is pushing is the passage of a law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals.
Lawmakers have failed to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act for more than two decades. Razer said the removal of the exhibit is proof there is still bigotry under the Capitol’s roof and across the state.
Quade announced on Thursday that she is calling for immediate reinstatement of the exhibit.
"The removal amid political pressure of a temporary display in the Missouri Capitol Museum commemorating the struggle for LGBT rights in Kansas City is just the latest example of the Republican war on the truth," Quade wrote in a statement.
Razer said on Thursday that he was waiting on a call from the directors of the state parks department and department of natural resources. He said he also wants the exhibit back in the museum and also wants answers. If the exhibit is not allowed in the museum, he wants to know how welcome LGBTQ Missourians are at the rest of the state’s parks.
“Nothing about the decision that was made yesterday, to put our history back in the closet, tells me that we are welcome in Missouri State Parks,” Razer said.
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