JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A state senator from Kansas City said he is demanding answers after an exhibit on the gay rights movement in Missouri was removed from the state Capitol.
Democrat Sen. Greg Razer, the only openly gay member of the Missouri Senate, said he was "appalled" when he was told the exhibit, "Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights" had been removed from the Missouri State Museum at the state Capitol in Jefferson City.
Connie Patterson, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, did not immediately reply to questions from KSHB 41 News or The Associated Press about why the exhibit was moved and who made the decision.
Gov. Mike Parson's office said Thursday afternoon that they received several complaints and it was removed because it wasn't approved for display in accordance with state statutes.
"Governor Parson was not aware of the display at the Missouri State Museum that detailed the history of the LGBTQ community in Missouri," Kelli Jones, communications director for the governor's office, said in an email to KSHB 41 News. "Governor Parson’s office became aware of the display after receiving several complaints regarding the display. The Department of Natural Resources manages the Museum, and state statute requires the department to coordinate activities relating to the museum with the Board of Public Buildings. The statutorily mandated process was not followed in this instance, thereby, causing the Department of Natural Resources to remove the display."
Uriah Stark, legislative aide for state Rep. Mitch Boggs, a Republican from La Russell, posted pictures of the exhibit Tuesday on Facebook and questioned why the "taxpayer-funded museum is pushing the LGBT agenda in our state Capitol?"
The next day, Stark thanked "several of our great elected officials" for having the exhibit removed, specifically mentioning Republican Reps. Ann Kelley, of Lamar, and Brian Seitz, of Branson.
Seitz denied direct involvement in the exhibit's removal.
"My involvement was that I simply called the museum director and left a message for a return call (which I have not received)," he said in a statement to KSHB 41 News. "My question would have been, 'Why was this time chosen for the display, is it needed and was there an agenda behind the timing, as school children may be taking trips to the Capitol in the near future? Would this display have been age appropriate and does it represent the feelings and concerns of most Missourians?'"
Kelley's office has yet to respond to email Thursday morning seeking comment.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources oversees the Missouri State Parks program, including the Missouri State Museum.
Connie Patterson, director of communications for the department, sent a copy of Parson's statement and added: "We take seriously our commitment to telling Missouri’s stories and regret that we neglected to follow RSMo Section 184.101. We commit to working with the Board of Public Meetings regarding displays and exhibits at the Capitol."
According to RSMo. Chapter 184.010, a law that went into effect in 1949, “the department shall coordinate its activities relating to the museum with those of the Board of Public Buildings in the use and utilization of the corridors, halls, walls and other space within the state Capitol building as may be necessary for the display and exhibits of the museum and the memorial hall.”
However, based on a review of Board of Public Buildings Minutes dating back to July 2012, no exhibit displayed at the Missouri State Museum has been discussed before the board in at least nine years.
That includes “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” but it would also mean any exhibit displayed during that time has violated the same state law Parson’s office used to justify removal of this particular display.
Parson serves as chairman of the three-member Board of Public Buildings, which includes Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe as secretary and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
No museum exhibits were discussed under former Govs. Jay Nixon or Eric Greitens either.
The exhibit was installed Friday, Aug. 27, and was scheduled to remain on display through Dec. 26, 2021.
"There is NOTHING controversial about an exhibit that explains how members of the LGBT community fought to end persecution and demand rights as citizens," Razer tweeted on Thursday. "I'm extremely disappointed and angry that @mostateparks may think otherwise."
“The removal amid political pressure of a temporary display in the Missouri Capitol Museum commemorating the struggle for LGBT rights in Kansas City is just the latest example of the Republican war on the truth," House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement. "Only scared people with small minds feel threatened by historical facts that challenge them to reevaluate what they think they know. The state Capitol belongs to all Missourians, and all Missourians deserve to have their history represented in it. This display must be reinstated immediately.”
The project was established in March 2017 as part of a collaboration involving the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which hosts an online version of the exhibit.
"The exhibit explores the activism of gays and lesbians in the decades before (the) Stonewall (Riots in New York's Greenwich Village), including Kansas City’s surprisingly pivotal role in helping to launch America’s gay rights movement.
The project was launched after the installation of a marker at Barney Allis Plaza to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in February 1966 at the State Hotel near East 12th and Wyandotte streets in Kansas City, Missouri.
It set the stage for the burgeoning gay and lesbian rights movement.