Cuban-American's Photographs Added To Smithsonian's LGBT Rights Collection

The Smithsonian Institution is adding hundreds of photographs, papers and historical documents on the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, including items from the groundbreaking TV show “Will and Grace.”

Among the collection are 86 recently acquired images depicting gay rights activism from Cuban-American photographer Silvia Ros – most of them taken in Washington at the National Equality March in October 2009.

Ros told The Miami Herald she grew up in a conservative Cuban household and when her family found out she was a lesbian, they threw her out – blaming her for “turning my younger brother gay.”

“It’s really important for me that these prints go into the Smithsonian for history,” she said prior to the ceremony at the National Museum of American History on Tuesday. “But it was more important for me that I document these people who are fighting, and the reasons they have found themselves in this position to do so.”

As for the collection from “Will and Grace,” it includes original scripts, casting ideas, political memorabilia surrounding the show and the series finale. The network also agreed to donate props, including a pill bottle and flask, a sign from “Grade Adler Interior Design” and Will Truman’s framed college diploma.

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Show co-creator David Kohan told The Associated Press the Smithsonian's interest in the show featuring gay principal characters was a validation they never dreamed about when the sitcom began airing in 1998. "Will and Grace" ran through May 2006 depicting four friends both gay and straight, eventually ending with the main characters coupled off with children.

"These particular guests that were invited into people's living rooms happened to be your gay friends," Kohan said. "I don't think people really had the opportunity to have that before, and it served to, I think, make people recognize that your close friends were gay."

"The fact that it's in the American history (museum), maybe we were a part of something that was bigger than we ever imagined," Kohan said.

The donation is part of larger effort to document gay and lesbian history, an area that has not been well understood at the museum. Curators are collecting materials from LGBT political, sports and cultural history objects from Arizona to Maryland.

Other items being donated include the diplomatic passports of Ambassador David Huebner, the first openly gay U.S. ambassador confirmed by the Senate, and his husband; materials from a gay community center in Baltimore; and a photography collection from Patsy Lynch documenting gay rights activism.

From sports history, the museum will receive a tennis racket from former professional player Renee Richards who won a landmark New York Supreme Court decision for transgender rights after she was denied entry to the U.S. Open in 1975. And the museum will receive the first transgender pride flag from an activist and U.S. Navy veteran.

"There have always been gender non-conforming people in the U.S., and we've made contributions and lived life since the beginning of the country," said Curator Katherine Ott who focuses on sexuality and gender. "It's not talked about and analyzed and understood in the critical ways in which it should be. So for us to build the collection means we can more fully document the history of this country."

"Will and Grace" used comedy to familiarize a mainstream audience with gay culture, said Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers. It was daring and broke ground in the same way "All in the Family" did in the 1970s around issues of bigotry and tolerance, Bowers said.

"We're very interested in how entertainment can act as sort of a buffer to make people think and understand the challenges in American life," he said.

The show creators also donated a letter from Focus on the Family in 2000 objecting to an episode making fun of reparative gay therapy, along with the show's flippant and dismissive written response. The museum wanted to document that as well.

The Smithsonian has previously collected items opposing LGBT rights, including protest signs from the Westboro Baptist Church.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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