In an effort to get inspired to get back into blogging regularly, this past week I went back and read my entire blog so far. By reading five years of my own writing, I watched as I went from gushy to jaded. I can also look back and see the passage of time over the course of my visits to a different museum each week for several months at a time. For example, I associate some weeks’ museum trips with a particular kind of weather or remember the site being decorated for a certain holiday.
I also remember some visits in terms of the events concurrently taking place in the world. In a region where many museums are government-run, or for other reasons have an American flag outside, I began to notice when the flags were at half-staff.
In one of my first blog posts, I posted a picture of a flag at Arlington National Cemetery, outside Arlington House, at half-staff because of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona that had wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people. When I blogged about visiting Bladensburg Waterfront Park in April 2013, I noted that the flag was at half-staff after the Boston Marathon attack. My very last Weekly Museum Visit, at the Library of Congress (Madison Building) took place when the flags were at half-staff not because of a specific recent tragedy but in commemoration of Police Week.
This year, the flag was at half-staff on Flag Day as the nation mourned yet another mass shooting. In an attack that targeted LGBTQ and Hispanic communities during Pride Weekend, 49 people were killed in Orlando, Florida at Pulse Nightclub.
As everyone grappled with the horror that had happened, just a few of the responses from museums included:
- The Indianapolis Museum of Art, along with Indy Pride, invited visitors to “Send Love to Orlando” by taking photos with Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture and posting them on social media.
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Museum of Durham History were just two museums that issued statements on the shooting.
- The Florida Holocaust Museum held a vigil in memory of the victims and donated all proceeds from one day of admissions to the Pulse Victims Fund. The museum’s website discusses the fact that one of the victims, Christopher Leinonen, had previously won an award from the museum for humanitarianism, in his case for starting a Gay Straight Alliance at his high school.
One idea that kept resurfacing in the reporting on the Orlando shooting was that a gay nightclub is a safe space or sanctuary. This thought was also included in my clergy leader’s words at a vigil I attended after the massacre.
I had thought of bars and clubs and lounges as places to unwind after a long week, maybe drink more or spend more or stay out later than planned, maybe end up with a sheepish-groan-worthy story later. I have not thought of any club as a place of particular peace or safety. Sure, part of that might be my introverted personality that finds more peace in quiet solitude than in a loud and crowded room where everyone can dance better than I can.
But also, nightlife venues have not offered me much that I can’t find anywhere else, because for my entire adult life, I (a woman) have been able to hold hands with a man without fear of attack, and without wondering which family members, employers, or professors might disapprove (or worse).
Omar Mateen, who took 49 lives on June 12 and was killed in the police confrontation that followed, was reported to have frequented the club himself. There is speculation and some evidence from people who knew him that he himself may have been gay. The evidence suggests he was inspired by ISIS but did not have any actual connection to them, and it is impossible now for him to explain why he did what he did. In a decision that we will never be able to understand, he attacked a place full of people who would not have taken issue with his sexual orientation, whatever it was. He attacked people in their sanctuary.
In the museum world, it is often in discussions of visitor motivations that the idea of the museum as a sanctuary comes up: a silent room filled with art, a secluded gazebo in the gardens outside a history museum. A literal nature sanctuary, or the literal sanctuary of a historic house of worship. Visitors seeking these types of places would be called rechargers by researcher John Falk.
What had once been the site of a police raid and subsequent days of rioting that are thought to be the moment defining the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States – Stonewall Inn in New York City – is now itself designated as a national monument. Specifically, adjacent Christopher Park, which contains the sculpture Gay Liberation by George Segal, is now also known as the Stonewall National Monument. While I have not been to this park, other visitors have been making pilgrimages there long before it got official presidential recognition, and perhaps it is a place that lends itself to recharging like the other museum and park examples listed above.
My clergy leader reading names at a vigil, and the young man who won a humanitarian award and later died in a mass shooting, and so many museum workers, and I in my non-profit professional and volunteer work, and countless others of us have all been working to make our museums, our spiritual meetinghouses, our nightclubs, and our world as a whole a safer place for all. Exactly one year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality for all Americans in every jurisdiction, and exactly two weeks after horrendous gun violence at a gay club, I am reminded of the work that has been done and the work that is left to do.