by Fred Kuhr
Bil Browning, managing editor of news website LGBTQ Nation and founder of since-shuttered bilerico.com, is officially part of LGBTQ history.
Browning and his husband, Jerame Davis, donated dozens of items that are now part of “Illegal To Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall,” an exhibition unveiled in June at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
As outlined in LGBTQ Nation, the donated items include a small paper gift box taken from their wedding, a bullhorn from Davis’ activists days back in Indiana, and two buttons — one that reads “TELL” with a camouflage background (a nod to the political fight in the ‘90s over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly LGBTQ troops) and another that says “Trans Rights Now.”
The exhibit also contains personal items from Browning’s Indiana childhood — a toy bus that brought him “peace and empowerment as a bullied child.” Browning explained that because of a broken latch the bus’ hood could detach from its base, he used to imagine the bus as an alligator’s head.
“In my daydreams, the bus would swallow my tormentors, gobbling down the pain they cased and spitting it back out, now neutralized, through its broken alligator jaws,” he recalled. “I’d unknowingly learned another lesson from the bus-inspired fantasies of vanquishing my bullies. If you want to succeed, if you want to move forward, you first have to open your mouth.”
According to curator Katherine Ott, the items showcase LGBTQ history, activism and the “everyday experience of being queer.”
Other items on display include knives used to lobotomized gay men in the 1970s, a figure skating costume worn by gay Olympian Brian Boitano, shoes worn by trans tennis player Renée Richards and cosmetics used by film director and provocateur John Waters.
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