JEFFERSON CITY — An exhibit on Kansas City’s gay history has been removed from the Missouri Capitol following several complaints, including from a GOP official who works in the building.
The complaints about the exhibit, “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” surfaced Tuesday on the social media account of an aide to a Republican lawmaker from southwest Missouri. The exhibit was removed on Wednesday.
Connie Patterson, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, confirmed Thursday the exhibit “has been moved from the Capitol” but didn’t say where it was moved or who ordered its removal.
One state senator from Kansas City said he was “appalled” and “personally offended” to learn the exhibit no longer was at the Capitol.
Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and the only openly gay member of the Missouri Senate, said Wednesday he would “demand answers immediately.”
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Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Parson, said Thursday the governor “was not aware of the display” but that his office “became aware” after “receiving several complaints.”
Parson has in the past expressed reservations about gays, telling the Baptist magazine Word&Way in 2017 that he was “old school. I know how I believe, I know what’s going to happen to these people.”
Jones said the Department of Natural Resources, overseeing the Division of State Parks, runs the museum and that “state statute requires the Department to coordinate activities relating to the Museum with the Board of Public Buildings.”
“The statutorily mandated process was not followed in this instance, thereby causing the Department of Natural Resources to remove the display,” she said.
The Board of Public Buildings includes the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
A state law says the DNR “shall coordinate its activities relating to the museum with those of the board of public buildings in the use and utilization of the corridors ... as may be necessary for the display and exhibits of the museum and the memorial hall.”
The Board of Public Buildings typically acts on public funding for state-owned buildings such as the Capitol, and it also delegates other decisions to the Office of Administration.
There is no mention of any museum exhibits in available Board of Public Building minutes dating back to 2016.
Razer said Dru Buntin, director of the DNR, told him Thursday afternoon “the same thing we’ve heard from the governor’s office — that it didn’t go through the correct protocol, didn’t get approval from” the Board of Public Buildings “and so therefore it had to be taken down.
“It sounds like a convenient bureaucratic excuse,” Razer said. “I suspect that that board rarely if ever approves temporary exhibits that go in that museum.”
Pushing ‘the LGBT agenda’
The controversy hit social media Tuesday, when Uriah Stark, legislative aide for state Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-La Russell, posted pictures of the exhibit on Facebook.
“So is there any good reason that our taxpayer funded museum is pushing the LGBT agenda in our state capitol?” he posted.
The photos showed the banner “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” was among several others displayed on the first floor of the Capitol.
Banner titles included “The Straight State” and “the Gay Liberation Movement,” among others.
Stark posted again on Wednesday.
“Thanks to the efforts of several of our great elected officials, the exhibit has been removed from the Missouri State Museum! To God be the glory!” he said, giving a “shoutout” to Reps. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, and Brian Seitz, R-Branson.
Seitz, reached by phone on Thursday, said he hadn’t seen the exhibit in person and had left a message for a museum official on Wednesday in an effort to learn more but hadn’t received a response.
A University of Missouri-Kansas City website said the “Making History” traveling exhibit was originally a product of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Public History class.
It said the display was unveiled in 2017 after two groups, the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America and LGBT-KC, placed a commemorative marker in Kansas City the year before.
An Aug. 27 Facebook post by GLAMA at the University of Missouri-Kansas City said “Queer History Invades the Missouri Capitol! The touring version of ‘Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights’ is now on display at the Missouri State Museum!”
It said the exhibit details “the contributions made by Kansas Citians to gay and lesbian civil rights in the years before Stonewall,” referencing the 1969 riots in New York City that are seen as a central part in the movement for LGBT rights.
“We are absolutely thrilled that our colleagues at the Museum have mounted the exhibit, which will be on display for Capitol visitors and state legislators through the end of the year,” the post said.
The Missouri State Museum, located within the state Capitol, features numerous historical exhibits, including portraits of former governors and more.
“There is NOTHING controversial about an exhibit that explains how members of the LGBT community fought to end persecution and demand rights as citizens,” Razer tweeted on Thursday. “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that @mostateparks may think otherwise.
There is NOTHING controversial about an exhibit that explains how members of the LGBT community fought to end persecution and demand rights as citizens. I’m extremely disappointed and angry that @mostateparks may think otherwise. #moleg https://t.co/kViKOwby0x— State Senator Greg Razer (@SenGregRazer) September 2, 2021
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, issued a statement Thursday demanding the exhibit be brought back to the Capitol.
“Only scared people with small minds feel threatened by historical facts that challenge them to reevaluate what they think they know,” she said. “The state Capitol belongs to all Missourians, and all Missourians deserve to have their history represented in it. This display must be reinstated immediately.”
Updated at 6 p.m. Originally posted at 10:20 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.