It was an event as important to American civil rights history as bus boycotts and sit-ins, but 50 years later, the moment that catalyzed the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement is still unfamiliar to most citizens.
And it's no wonder that the Stonewall Riots — which took place at New York City's Stonewall Inn in late June 1969 — are largely absent from public knowledge. This year, New Jersey became only the second state after California to require public schools to teach students about LGBTQ+ history and queer American contributions to society.
While Broward schools observe LGBT History Month, a statewide curriculum has not yet been set. So cultural organizations such as the Frank C. Ortis Art Gallery and Exhibit Hall — also known as the Frank Art Gallery — have stepped up to educate the community about queer history's significance in South Florida.
The Frank Art Gallery opened just under two years ago in Pembroke Pines. The gallery showcases work from local and nationally recognized contemporary artists. Its latest exhibition, "Prism," runs through May 4 in observance of the Stonewall anniversary. The Frank's chief curator, Joshua Carden, tells New Times the exhibit offers an interdisciplinary view of LGBTQIA identity and diversity. Many of the pieces are abstract, but Carden says they are all informed by queer identity.
Painter Shawn Bouffard, one of the artists featured in the exhibit, creates pieces based on his experiences of the world as a trans man. And photographer Tom Atwood's photo series, Kings & Queens in Their Castles, is an in-depth exploration of the daily American LGBTQ experience.
Carden says that as a gay man, even he learned about certain aspects of queer history. Indeed, one of the great tragedies of LGBTQ history is the way in which trans people, particularly trans women of color, were erased from the narrative of the civil rights movement they launched.
Carden says the Frank Gallery made an effort to focus on these forgotten players in their exhibit. Curators used the words from Bouffard's artist's statement to explore issues of trans identity. "Personally, I didn't even know a lot of the definitions of these words," Carden says. "So we've pulled out the terms from his artist's statement to really go into a little more depth and to pull out why trans people are more apt to commit suicide, why trans people are still fighting for their rights in bathrooms and the military today."
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Another section of the exhibit features a world map that educates visitors about queer sexual and gender identities throughout the world. "Trans identity has always been widely acknowledged and accepted, and it's more of a modern, Western idea that these things are new," Carden says. "They're not new. They've just always been there and a little bit swept under the rug."
Fort Lauderdale's Stonewall National Museum and Archives also contributed to the "Prism" exhibit via the short film, Our Broward Story, which chronicles a 1990's campaign to protect Broward County's LGBTQ community from discrimination. Carden says that those efforts were a direct result of the gains made decades earlier at Stonewall.
"A lot of the people who actually were involved in the Stonewall Riots ended up moving to South Florida afterward to kind of begin anew," he says, "and they ended up fostering a whole community down here of LGBT people... So there's a much more direct correlation than a lot of people even realize."
"Prism." On view Friday, February 22, through Saturday, May 4, at the Frank C. Ortis Art Gallery and Exhibit Hall, 601 City Center Way, Pembroke Pines; 954-392-2120; thefrankgallery.org.