The Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America at UMKC is keenly aware of the importance of this season of giving – indeed, it is through gifts that the archive has been able to grow and preserve Kansas City’s LGBT heritage for nearly 10 years. Recently, we received a donation that was so thrilling and so unexpected it deserved to be shared.
On a blustery Friday in November, former Kansas Citian Ardie Viet made the journey to GLAMA from northwestern Iowa. Viet lived in Kansas City in the 1980s and ’90s and was active in the LGBT community during that time. On her visit, she was accompanied by longtime friend and KC activist Jon Barnett, who explained that “it was rare to go to an event and see Ardie without her camera,” so, naturally, the collection of items she donated included hundreds of snapshots from that period.
The most intriguing portion of her donation, though, was what appeared to be a tightly wound hot-pink poster with a turquoise blue border. Viet unrolled it to its full 13-foot length, revealing it to be the banner that identified the Kansas City contingent who participated in the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
1993 was a particularly challenging time for the LGBT community. The previous year, the state of Colorado passed Amendment 2, which codified in the state’s constitution the prohibition of laws that prevented discrimination based on sexual orientation. President Bill Clinton introduced the policy that became known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which forced gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel into the closet, despite Clinton’s campaign promise that they would be allowed to serve openly. During that year, nearly 79,000 Americans were diagnosed with AIDS; of that number, more than 45,000 died, an average of 3,750 individuals each month.
It is easy then to understand why LGBT protesters would again take to the streets of the nation’s capital (previous marches had been held in 1979 and 1987). The march occurred on April 25, and it was preceded by two days of related events: historical exhibits, religious services, political workshops, and candlelight vigils. The day before the march, a demonstration for same-sex marriage drew about 1,500 participants outside the National Museum of Natural History.
The primary focus of the weekend, though, was the march. An estimated 1,000 Kansas Citians participated, and the total crowd estimates ranged up to one million people. Starting at the Washington Monument and making its way to the U.S. Capitol Building, the march lasted over six hours. Those at the end of the line had to wait a full five hours before they began moving. Rhonda Weimer of Kansas City was quoted as saying “this is the experience of a lifetime for a lesbian.” Camp publisher and editorial director John Long, recalled his experience at the next march in 2000:
That one weekend felt like gays owned Washington, D.C. We were everywhere. It felt so empowering. It felt like we were the majority instead of the minority that weekend. The Metro trains were packed with gay people. I was on one of the trains with my partner, Jim Gabel, and it was nearly 100 percent gay. Some tourists from Europe boarded the train with their local host, and I heard them say to him, “Is this normal?” when looking at the packed train car of gay people, and some gay guy overheard them and said, “Honey, there ain’t nothing about this train that is normal.”
Given the importance of this event in American LGBT history, it is easy to imagine our thrill at being given the banner that identified the Kansas City marchers. What’s even more poignantly unique about the piece is that it is covered in autographs from march participants and well-wishers who couldn’t attend. From prominent political activists to a Marine Corps sergeant (“Free the Military!”), from a member of the Gay & Lesbian Association of Nigeria to “Nasty Sally Seersucker,” from messages of hope and unity to a memoriam remembering six men no longer alive, the array of signatures and annotations tangibly convey the empowerment and hope that the march represented.
It is fitting that the donation be made this year, the 25th anniversary of the 1993 March on Washington. Viet, the donor, noted that she had been holding on to the banner all this time “until I found the right home for it.” GLAMA is deeply honored and genuinely humbled by her decision to entrust this artifact to us, ensuring it will be on hand for future Kansas Citians to admire, to reflect upon, and to draw inspiration from.
If You Go:
The banner from the 1993 march, along with other artifacts, can be seen at the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (https://goo.gl/YMRRDz) at UMKC. LaBudde Special Collections, which includes GLAMA, is on the third floor of UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library.
Stuart Hinds is the assistant dean for special collections and archives at the Miller Nichols Library at UMKC and the curator of the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America.