The Smithsonian’s commitment to diversity is never more evident than in our presence at the Capitol Pride Parade. Bonnie Schipper takes us behind the scenes.
Dupont Circle was filled with color over the weekend of June 9-10 as the District hosted its 48th annual Pride celebration. Nearly 50 years after the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots, when gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals rioted after a police raid on a Manhattan gay bar, Pride celebrations are bigger and more colorful than ever. June, first recognized in the United States as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month by then-President Bill Clinton in 1999, continues to be a time of celebrating diversity and individuality and calling for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
Included in the crowd of hundreds of thousands of parade attendees were members of the Smithsonian’s LGBTQ+ employee group, GLOBE. Riding a flag-filled rainbow truck complete with a giant panda statue, courtesy of the National Zoo, and a banner reading “One Smithsonian, Loud and Proud,” employees and volunteers from across the Institution shared a message of inclusion and acceptance as they drove through the nation’s capital.
“The Smithsonian contingent has been going [to Capital Pride] for a couple of years now, and I was really excited to know that we had a presence in our hometown Pride parade,” Provost John Davis said. “We have to be the museum, research, and educational institution that speaks to everyone. There is no one who should not be a part of our audience and who should not have access to what the Smithsonian offers. That has to mean that as a community, the Smithsonian embraces diversity and inclusivity in all respects, including sexual orientation and identity.”
GLOBE has been an active advocate for LGBTQ+ employees, volunteers, and visitors, working to combat issues of homophobia and transphobia, “including violence, discrimination, and visibility of all people of non-conforming sexualities and genders,” according to the SI Archives. With that goal in mind, GLOBE was heavily involved in the planning of Pride month festivities in addition to the parade and festival, including tours of work by LGBTQ+ artists at the American Art Museum, amongst others.
“We want to make sure the LGBTQ+ conversation keeps happening at the programming level of the Smithsonian,” GLOBE member Todd Doane said. Fellow member Jessica Lavin continued “curators have been responsive to the idea of presenting this information more readily. We’ve had some special programming where they’ve highlighted the influence and contributions of people LBGTQ community,”
Having grown to have over 200 members, the group has been a growing presence at Capital Pride for 4 years now, partaking in both the Saturday parade and the Sunday festival. With over 6,000 volunteers working across the Institution every year, one of the primary activities that occurs at the Pride festival is volunteer and employee recruiting.
“My position working with volunteer and recruitment is a big motivator for attending Pride every year – diversity, inclusion and tolerance is what our volunteer programs are all about,” Office of Visitor Services Volunteer Retention and Recruitment Assistant Kris Hamilton said.
The Smithsonian was one of several federal agencies present at the festivities, with representatives from the US Census Bureau, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security, and the National Park Service, amongst others, also in attendance. Despite being the oldest GLOBE group in the federal government, established in the early 1980s, the Institution has only been represented at Pride since 2015. Shawnie McRaney, Exhibits Specialist at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) can speak to the progress made with respect to LGBTQ+ rights and representation in the federal government.
“Overall, I have worked for eight SI units in various capacities. It seems fitting that my career has crossed boundaries as I have in my life,” she said. “A bad joke I will make is that I’ve been with the Smithsonian so long that I used to be a man.”
McRaney began working with the Smithsonian in 1986, under the name Michael Shawn McRaney.
“In the late ‘80s I didn’t hear the term ‘LGBT,’ let alone the ‘Q.’” McRaney said. “. . . There was no serious dialogue of identity and [no] right to decide one’s own destiny.”
After leaving the Smithsonian in 1997, McRaney returned to the Institution in 2009 and finally gained the courage to begin the physical transition to female in 2015. Beginning [female hormone replacement therapy] the same week that the story of Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlin hit newsstands and became the subject of countless jokes, McRaney’s fear was justified.
“When I began transitioning, I was afraid. Convinced that I would be rejected by most,” McRaney said. However, her experience at the Institution demonstrated that times have changed. “When I began working at NMAH 18 months ago, I was scared. It’s the largest museum I’ve ever been a part of, but that largeness was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. I have been exposed to and taught by so many people. The diversity of people helped to bring me out of my own worries.”
Riding in the back of the float at this year’s parade, McRaney’s attention was drawn to a spectator in the crowd who was running to catch up to the Smithsonian truck.
“Keeping pace [the woman] yelled ‘I worked for Smithsonian for 6 years! This could have never happened when I was there! Thank you!’ She was happy and emotional and crying just a bit,” McRaney recounted. “. . . Riding in the back of the float, I was surrounded by happy, proud people. Diverse people. . . . I understood well what that woman was telling me when she caught up to us. Life has changed . . . it was a day of defiant celebration [and] happiness.”
That diversity is an integral part of what makes the Smithsonian unique. Even with Pride month coming to a close, the Smithsonian remains a place of acceptance, individuality, and progress.
“[The Pride parade] is a mile and a half of people cheering for you just because you are you, and that isn’t a safe thing to be,” Lavin said. “And knowing [the Smithsonian is there to support you] makes a really big difference.”
Bonnie Schipper is an intern with the Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs.
Posted: 3 July 2018