Rise Up By Taking In the New LGBTQ Rights Exhibit at Illinois Holocaust Museum

While the Newseum is no more, and that is an extremely unfortunate truth for American society as a whole, at least much of what was displayed there remains available for viewing at other museums. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, a 64,000 square foot space in suburban Skokie, now hosts close to 100 of the artifacts that were formerly on display at the Newseum.

Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement was developed by the Newseum, an affiliate of the Freedom Forum, an organization whose mission is to further foster First Amendment liberties. The Holocaust Museum added on to their collection of artifacts, and there are now close to 85 of them on display at this special exhibition, which opened Oct. 17.

Some of the many historical artifacts on display include: one of Harvey Milk’s campaign signs, a rainbow flag in its original colors, signed by its creator Gilbert Baker (the pink and turquoise were later removed, because these two colors were too challenging to mass produce), Martina Navratilova’s tennis racket and a flag from the very first gay pride parade.

That parade was held right here in Chicago in 1970, on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City. Stonewall is considered the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, and all activists today realize just how central and inspirational those events were to the overall cause.

You’ll also see a wide array of historical publications, related to the movement, and one will truly be both astonished and horrified by how LGBTQ people were referred to, in headlines of major mainstream newspapers a half-century ago.

And if you’re confused on the full meaning of the LGBTQ acronym, this exhibition will clarify that for you.

On a private tour of the exhibition, we spoke with Holocaust Museum Director of Education Leah Rauch. I asked her what she hoped would be the message that the museum goer takes away attending the exhibition.

“We’re hoping that by going through this exhibition, first of all, they’ll see how much progress has been made by our country,” Rauch responded.

“So it starts off in the 1950s, people could not live openly at all, they were arrested, and then it goes to show some objects connected to marriage equality, in 2015- so there is a huge amount of progress that has been made in the past few decades.”

Upstairs, in the museum’s permanent collection, a famous William Faulkner quote is displayed prominently: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It perfectly encapsulates the mission of the museum overall, and this exhibition specifically.

Rise Up isn’t about just telling us what has already happened, it’s also about inspiring others to get involved and help move society further forward.

“I hope people will be inspired by how much progress that’s been made, but it’s not just a celebratory thing, it’s not a big pat on the back,” Rauch added.

“It actually ends with a section called The Battle is Far From Over, so it’s highlighting the work that is still to be done, but we’re also hoping that people can see the work that individual activists did and really be inspired to go back to their own communities to rise up, take a stand, and make positive changes in their communities.”

And after you’ve toured Rise Up, be sure to go back to the facility’s main floor and tour their primary exhibit/the permanent collection, which covers the Holocaust in detail. It’s a very striking, impactful, informative and edifying display, and it includes an actual rail car from a Nazi concentration camp.

For more information on Rise Up and the Holocaust Museum go here. For more on the mission and continuing work of the Newseum, go to freedomforum.org. For a list of prominent LGBTQ rights organizations all around the world, go here.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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