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Florida: Gay Men's "Living Rooms" Too Controversial for Fort Lauderdale Schools?
By Ilana Rosen, SIECUS Program Research Intern.

Florida schools were cited as the reason to yank a photo exhibit at the library of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale. The nation's largest LGBT museum,1 with an extensive collection of literature, artwork, and historical artifacts, removed the four photos in its "Men in Living Rooms" exhibit after informal complaints circulated about the potential impact of the photos on school group visits. The exhibit, by photographer Jeff Larson, depicted semi-clothed gay men at home in their living rooms.

"Men in Living Rooms" is neither explicitly sexual nor does it display nudity or genitalia, and many argue that students can see more explicit nudity in regular art museums.2 According to Dr. Gema Perez-Sanchez, a University of Miami Art Professor and member of the library, Larson's photo series is an important link to "the long tradition of bourgeois and middle-class portraiture of Dutch Painters…with an excellent and celebratory twist in support of our LGBTQ community."

The museum pulled the show just days before its opening, with museum officials claiming the photographs inappropriate and provocative for the many school groups that visit the museum.3 Reaction was swift: the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) joined various visitors and library members to challenge the museum's retreat, calling it censorship and a disservice to education about the lives of people in LGBT communities.

Although the museum has embarked on collaborative educational projects with schools in Broward County,4 no school officials were on record regarding the effect that "Men in Living Rooms" might have on future collaborations. The museum's decision to take down the show appeared to be based more on perception of potential controversy than reaction to actual objections from school representatives.

Tom Tabor, chair of the Stonewall Museum board of directors, defended the decision while regretting the way it was carried out: "With schools clamoring for programs that promote LGBT history, understanding and tolerance, Stonewall has an important national role to fill" he noted.5 The museum has worked hard to build and sustain a relationship with local schools, and students currently make up the majority of visitors to its library. Tabor added, "With our current new outreach in working with schools in response to the demand for LGBT history education, Stonewall did not want to limit this opportunity by an overreach now that schools have been in."6

The NCAC confronted the Stonewall Museum with a question affecting all educators who cover topics in human sexuality: "How is cultural understanding to be built, if the Museum caters to the very prejudices it seems to oppose?"7 Bryan Knicely, the Stonewall Museum president, denied that removal of the exhibit was tantamount to the silencing of sexuality information: "While I do not believe in censorship, the current photos push the boundaries…"8


1Stonewall National Museum and Archives web site, accessed 5 October 2012, <http://www.stonewallnationalmuseum.org/aboutlibrary.html>.

2Gideon Grudo, "Censorship Controversy Continues After Stonewall Museum Removes Exhibit," South Florida Gay News, 26 September 2012, accessed 3 October 2012, < http://www.southfloridagaynews.com/news/local-news/7327-censorship-controversy-continues-after-stonewall-museum-removes-exhibit.html>

3J.W. Arnold, "Kinky Exhibit Sparks Controversy at Stonewall National Museum and Archives," South Florida Gay News, 19 September 2012, accessed 3 October 2012, < http://www.southfloridagaynews.com/news/local-news/7261-kinky-exhibit-sparks-controversy-at-stonewall-library-and-archives.html>

4"Stonewall Museum Partners with Broward Public Schools, Unveils 1949 'Gay' Letters Collection," 25 July 2012, accessed 5 October 2012, <http://floridaagenda.com/2012/07/25/stonewall-museum-partners-with-broward-public-schools-unveils-1949-%E2%80%98gay%E2%80%99-letters-collection/>.

5Ibid.

6Ibid.

7Grudo, "Censorship Controversy Continues…"

8Arnold, "Kinky Exhibit…"

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