New Exhibit Chronicles The History Of Miami's LGBTQ Community

Mar 12, 2019

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a new exhibition chronicles the history of Miami-Dade County’s LGBTQ community over the past 120 years. 

Through photos of joy, resistance and defiance, "Queer Miami: A History of the LGBTQ Communities," explores Miami's queer past and sexual diversity. It was curated by Dr. Julio Capó Jr., who was born and raised in Miami and is the author of “Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940.” Capó is an associate professor of history at University of Massachusetts Amherst and has returned to Miami for the exhibit’s preview party on March 15. The exhibit opens March 16 at History Miami and will be on display until Sept. 1. 

WLRN: The LGBTQ community has faced a lot of discrimination, but looking at Miami and these photos on display there are joyous moments and triumphant moments. What is the story you're trying to tell?

Capó: Despite the amount of discrimination, hatred and violence that the LGBTQ community has faced in the span of over 120 years, it's a story about resilience. This is a story about resistance. In the face of all that violence, in the face of all that discrimination, a community emerged. And they saw themselves and they built solidarity in these really powerful ways. They saw themselves as not just a community of people who could come together based on their sexuality or their gender expression but also of people who would build solidarity with other movements. This LGBTQ community has always been invested in and thinking about how they themselves are thinking about social justice.

Let's talk about some of the pieces ... [there's] a 1930s photo called "La Paloma." What's happening in this photo?

There is this gay club in Miami, an unincorporated part of Dade County actually, called "La Paloma." And it was raided in 1937, not unlike the story we know about Stonewall in 1969 -- which we're celebrating the 50th anniversary [of] -- but decades before that there was another raid and it was here in Miami. And it wasn't raided by the police, but instead it was raided by nearly 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan. They saw [the gay club] as taking law into their own hands. If no one is going to do anything to eradicate this gay place that they would do it themselves. So they tried to intimidate the owners. They went in and they they tried to burn the place down, thinking that this was a way of promoting white values. And one of the things I love so much about this story is that they couldn't intimidate these people. Within a few weeks "La Paloma" reopens.

They incorporate parts of this attack, making fun of the KKK.

That's right! They took away the power of that KKK raid and said "You can't intimidate us." And by kind of doing that and turning the raid itself into one of those performances they stripped them of that. You know they couldn't intimidate and inflict that violence in the same way.

One of the big challenges is finding the history because a lot of this history has been erased.

Yeah. How do you tell the history of a community whose stories were never meant to be told? This is one of the challenges in studying when the archives, the research depositories that we normally rely on, only told these stories through the lens of criminality. Sometimes the only way these people's lives appear is because they were arrested or police records. But what does it look like if we only get someone's story through their Twitter handle or something, right? You only get a small fraction of what their lives look like.

What is the hardest story to find that you really had to dig for?

I think that one of the hardest things is to recover people's moments that are not through criminality. What did life look like when they were just having fun? And those moments come through in this exhibition. You have to work hard and read sources against the grain to ... put those criminal records for instance alongside other sources like paintings or postcards. And we do all that kind of work in the exhibition.