Smithsonian's Claim That Ex-Gay Group Denied Request for Artifacts Contested

Lauretta Brown | September 10, 2014 | 4:46pm EDT
Font Size

Buttons collected by the Smithsonian Insitution for its "Rainbow History" collection. (Photo: Lauretta Brown/

( – Smithsonian Archives Specialist Franklin Robinson admits that the museum’s collection documenting the “Rainbow History” of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) is “weighted more towards the (LGBT) community” because he says “it’s easier to collect from that community.”

But members of an ex-gay group are challenging Robinson's claim that they denied his request for materials for the collection.

Robinson told that certain groups, particularly Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), were not cooperative.

“I tried to collect more from PFOX and I was even willing to pay for the material because they do sell pamphlets, but they would not even sell to me,” Robinson told during a tour of the Smithsonian’s LGBT collection. “So you know, here we are trying to be evenhanded and to present both sides of the debate, and some people are not helping.”

“The bulk of material in the collection has been collected from people actually contacting us here at the Archives Center,” Robinson explained, adding, “I have reached out to PFOX, as well as through a third party to the Westboro Baptist Church and others that, because of privacy issues, I cannot divulge.”

However, PFOX, a group that advocates for those who have left the homosexual lifestyle, denied Robinson’s claim that he attempted to reach out to them. PFOX executive director Regina Griggs told that her organization has “never received a request” of that nature from the Smithsonian.

“As far as us denying the Smithsonian Institute brochures, anything that PFOX provides for help and education purposes…we would have been more than happy to respond and would have provided them,” she said.

“We just don’t have any recollection of anyone asking for that material because we’d be more than happy to give the Smithsonian material,” echoed PFOX president Estella Salvatierra. “We think it should be part of the LGBT collection because the ex-gay movement is a vital part of LGBT history. I’ll be more than happy to walk over to them and to the Smithsonian and give them our brochures.”

When asked Robinson to clarify, he responded by e-mail: "Apologies for the confusion. When I said that I ‘reached out’, I didn’t mean to imply that I spoke with an individual at PFOX. We do have a copy of a generic flyer about the organization which was distributed by PFOX in schools in the Montgomery County [VA] School system in February 2010 and which was donated to us by an individual.

"To get supplemental materials, I visited the PFOX website in the spring of 2010 and attempted to purchase a variety of brochures and other ephemera for a cost of $50. I received a thank you note from Regina Griggs acknowledging my donation but didn’t receive any materials. I am glad to hear that they are open to donating a range of materials and would be happy to contact Ms. Griggs to arrange a donation."

Robinson told that he would also be willing to collect items from pro-traditional family groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Marriage: Unique for a Reason Initiative, Concerned Women for America, and the American Family Association.

Passports of the first openly gay U.S. ambassador and his same-sex spouse. (Photo: Lauretta Brown/

He said he also plans to collect material from the conservative Values Voter Summit which will be held later this month in Washington.

“I am totally open to anybody that’s willing to kind of chat with me or mail me pamphlets because that fleshes this out and it makes it that much more valuable to researchers,” he said.

PFOX said that it would be more than willing to provide additional documents to the Smithsonian.

“We also have a D.C. Superior Court case four years ago where we won rights of the ex-gays to be included in the D.C. Human Rights Act and we could give them that case as well,” Salvatierra said. “That’s a historical legal case for ex-gay rights and we can give them that document…as well so they can archive that.”

But Salvatierra complained about the way the Smithsonian Archives Center referred to her organization. “They referenced it in the Archives materials as PFOX being ‘anti-gay’ …. It’s not anti-gay, it’s pro-ex-gay. That sort of language just creates more hate and division of gays versus ex-gays,” she said. ”I’m going to ask that they change it to ex-gay and not anti-gay.” toured a portion of the National Museum of American History’s LGBT collection following the museum’s August 19th addition of “hundreds of photographs, papers and historical objects documenting the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

Robinson described the LGBT collection at the Archives Center as an “open collection” that was started to “collect ephemera and material from and about and against and for that community into one area so anyone coming to research could kind of have maybe a one- stop shop.”

Items collected by the Smithsonian Institution for its LGBT collection include Renee Richards' tennis racket and a religious publication. (Photo: Lauretta Brown/

Robinson showed a 2010 “letter from John McCain when the question of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' was still being debated in the Senate,” noting that “a nice complement to that is the program from the first Pride month event at the Pentagon.”

Other recent additions include the diplomatic passports of Amb. David Huebner, the first openly gay U.S. ambassador confirmed by the Senate, and his same-sex spouse. The collection’s oldest piece is a card from 1915 that recorded the arrest and three- year prison sentence of a Pennsylvania man for “Sodomy and Buggery.”

Valeska Hilbig, deputy director at the American History Museum’ s Office of Communications & Marketing, told that there are LGBT materials on both sides of the question in the museum’s Science and Medicine, Political History, Culture and the Arts, Armed Forces History and Archives Center collections.

She pointed out that the museum’s political history division collected items from “the Tea Party rally in March 2010, Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor' rally, and most recently from the American Conservative Union’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in order to represent diverse perspectives.” also spoke with Dr. Katherine Ott, curator in the Division of Medicine and Science, who displayed t-shirts and buttons donated by LGBT advocacy groups and a tennis racket used by transgender tennis player Renee Richards, formerly Richard Raskind, who won a landmark 1977 New York Supreme Court decision allowing him to play as a women in the U.S. Open.

On the other side of the debate, Ott also showed a 1985 newsletter from a Catholic group with the headline: “Stop Homosexuality.”

“I know people object to things they don’t understand or they don’t approve of, but I’m a professional historian and our museum’s mission is to document the American experience,” Ott said when asked what she would say to those who object to the museum’s collection of LGBT items.

mrc merch