Picture of multiple items representing LGBTQ history from the museum

LGBTQ+ History

LGBTQ+ history is a part of American history that the museum has been documenting since its founding, both knowingly and unknowingly.

Our collections span centuries and include objects related to protest and politics, medicine and psychology, love and marriage, sports and entertainment, and more. Sometimes, curators and archivists collected objects for a specific reason that later turned out to have LGBTQ+ connections. For example, the numismatics collection has coins that were collected decades ago with the likenesses of emperors and royalty, such as Queen Christina of Sweden, who expressed same-sex attraction. Identities, terms, and definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity have been in flux as long as there have been humans. The museum is continually adding to and mining our existing resources in order to better understand evolving and overlapping identities such as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, transsexual, transvestite, mahu, homosexual, fluid, invert, urning, third sex, two sex, gender-bender, sapphist, hijra, friend of Dorothy, drag queen/king, and many other experiences.

The resources gathered on this page offer a path into the museum’s efforts in finding that past and making sense of it.

Display case in the museum
The Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall display was on view at the museum from June 2019 to July 2021.



  • Beyond Stonewall - during Pride Month only! This Smithsonian Channel production revisits the historic moment that began a movement and explores objects from the Smithsonian that tell stories of the gay experience in America.
  • Sylvia Rivera: Pushing Boundaries. This episode of our Latinas Talk Latinas series features Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman who was a fierce defender of LGBTQ+ rights.