Emails reveal conflict over Missouri LGBTQ history exhibit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri State Museum employees tried to defend an LGBTQ history exhibit to state officials before it was removed from the state Capitol after being displayed only four days, according to emails between museum and state officials.

Museum Director Tiffany Patterson wrote in an email hours before the exhibit was removed that she was trying to build a team of co-workers “to hold the division and department’s feet to the fire if this goes south,” The Kansas City Star reported.

“If we want to be inclusive, we need to practice what we preach,” Patterson wrote to a Missouri State Parks colleague on Sept. 1, the day the exhibit explaining the history of the gay rights movement in Kansas City was taken down.

The removal came after some Republican lawmakers questioned the display, with one legislative aide suggesting the installation was “pushing the LGBT agenda” with “in-your-face banners.”

The exhibit was later reopened in another state building blocks from the Capitol.

Some Democrats, lawmakers and museum and history officials have criticized the move, but Republican Gov. Mike Parson and his administration have not shown any inclination to reverse it.

The Parson administration has said the exhibit was removed because the museum did not follow state law and get approval from the Board of Public Buildings before installing the display.

However, meeting minutes show the board hasn’t approved museum exhibits in at least the past nine years. And in the emails, Patterson’s superiors do not mention the Board of Public Buildings, The Star reported.

The newspaper obtained Department of Natural Resources emails through a records request that showed how officials within the department tried to address the controversy. The department oversees the Missouri State Parks, which includes the Missouri State Museum.

The exhibit traces the role Kansas City played in the gay rights movement decades ago. It was developed in 2016 by a history class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has been displayed in several locations since 2017.

In a Sept. 2 email to a Missouri-Kansas City official, Patterson wrote that she was told to take down the exhibit by the deputy director of the DNR but didn’t name the official. The department has two deputy directors, Katie Jo Wheeler and Mike Sutherland.

The emails show that a museum employee wrote a draft that said the exhibit was removed after one visitor was offended and contacted legislators. “Many of the legislators agreed and put pressure on the higher-ups in State Parks,” the draft said.

Patterson responded that the explanation was “maybe too much information.”

In an email the morning after the exhibit was removed, Patterson told museum staff she was “profoundly sad” about the decision.

“I remain committed to pushing the line forward so that we can tell authentic stories about all of Missouri’s people,” she wrote.

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