It’s Pride Month. Don’t be silenced

Robert Kesten
Robert Kesten is the executive director and CEO of the Stonewall National Museum and Archive, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Our strength is in our individual LGBTQ stories

As Pride Month begins, the historic Stonewall National Museum and Archive, based in Fort Lauderdale, kicks off its next 50 years with a broadened focus and new leadership. We’re prepared to take on the challenges facing marginalized communities across the United States. The source of our pride? Historic context, knowing where we have been and knowing on whose shoulders we stand.

During the past few years, we, as a nation, have learned the power inherent in learning history. It is so powerful that governors and legislators are passing laws to limit how and what can be taught. Throughout time we have been reminded that knowledge is power, that libraries and repositories of knowledge are invaluable in a democracy.

Members of the LGBTQ community and others have been targeted in new and proposed legislation. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Blacks, women, Asians and others whose histories are being subjected to erasure by legislators, executives and the courts who fear what they do not know or understand. In their panic, they are attempting to draw some invisible line in the sand, believing they are protecting their place in history.

It has always been important to sustain libraries and other institutions of learning and preservation, but in the United States the public has rarely faced so much animus and vitriol. Elected officials want us to accept their version of history, regardless of the truth, regardless of the facts. It is our obligation as citizens to challenge that narrative and demand that our respective histories be shared, acknowledged and preserved for future generations.

There can be no negotiating away our stories. There can be no compromise on the many truths that make up the fabric of 21st century America. How we got here is the intersection of lives, human lives, of people who have lived on our streets, in our neighborhoods — friends and family members who have made a difference or lived in obscurity.

It’s fair to say that few of us are directly responsible for biased acts of the past, but it is also fair to say that we are all responsible for ensuring a better tomorrow. And we can only do that if we know and understand what has happened before and not hide or be sheltered from it.

On June 1, the first day of Pride Month, I will assume the role of executive director of the august Stonewall National Museum and Archives. It has, possibly, the largest collection of LGBTQIA+ materials in the United States and appreciates that the LGBTQIA+ community includes people of every race, religion, creed, national origin, gender, orientation, political belief, economic status, physical ability and every walk of life. It is one of the reasons the community is so full of pride and is on the front lines in the fight for universal human rights.

Stonewall will be using its arsenal of books, historical records, documents, educational expertise — in addition to its staff, volunteers, friends, and allies — to carry the message forward that our history is our strength. We will share that knowledge and information across the nation, offering hope to young and old alike, giving them the strength and confidence to stand up for themselves and others.

Climbing on the shoulders of the legends and icons who have come before me, whose words and deeds are ensconced in the Stonewall archives, I am confident that truth will win out, democracy and human rights will prevail, and the freedoms fought for in the distant and most recent past will be protected.

I invite everyone and every organization to join us in protecting and preserving libraries, archives, education, intellectual freedom, the historical record and the right for everyone to tell his or her story for the history books.

Don’t be silent.

Robert Kesten
Robert Kesten has worked globally promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and furthering democracy. He is responsible for an award winning documentary on learning about the Holocaust at the Concentration Camps in Poland, Working on the Ghanaian Constitution, coordinating and producing events leading to Ukrainian independence, producing events for the first AIDS day treatment center in the nation, pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ukraine. Now at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives he is taking ideas and bringing them to life.