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'Be Heard': New Exhibit Chronicles LGBTQ Experiences in Indiana

by Dorean K. Collins /
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1989, Whittney Murphy moved to Indiana to attend Butler University in 2007. Murphy grew up in the Pentecostal Church and works for the social, economic, and political liberation of the Black LGBTQI community in Indianapolis and beyond. In September 2013 she left her job with Liberty Mutual Group to become the lead faith community organizer for Freedom Indiana.Mark A. Lee / LGBT Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society

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The Indiana Historical Society is unveiling a new exhibit featuring stories from Indiana’s LGBTQ community.

The exhibit, “Be Heard: LGBT Experiences in Indiana,” will be on display Sept. 16 through Nov. 4 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, which is the headquarters of the Indiana Historical Society, in downtown Indianapolis. The society said it will feature a variety of perspectives from from Hoosiers of all ages in cities and towns throughout Indiana.

 Ruth Landau was born in Ohio in 1964 and moved to Indiana to attend veterinary school at Purdue University in 1996. Leila Peters was born in 1939 and grew up in Indianapolis. The two were introduced by mutual friends and became romantically involved about a year later. Seven years after their initial meeting, the couple tied the knot on June 26, 2014. After picking up their paperwork at the Boone County Courthouse, an Episcopal priest married them in his home. Courtesy of Mark A. Lee, Indiana Historical Society

"We are Indiana’s storyteller; that’s the mission of the Indiana Historical Society, so most of the collections that we collect, and the exhibits that we do and the programs really do try to celebrate and explore the stories in Indiana history," Eloise Batic, director of exhibitions at the Indiana Historical Society, said.

The exhibit will feature reflections on life during the AIDS epidemic and the importance of safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Other oral histories will share experiences of rural and black LGBTQ Hoosiers, marriage lawsuits and growing up with gay parents.

 Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1989, Whittney Murphy moved to Indiana to attend Butler University in 2007. Murphy grew up in the Pentecostal Church and works for the social, economic, and political liberation of the Black LGBTQI community in Indianapolis and beyond. In September 2013 she left her job with Liberty Mutual Group to become the lead faith community organizer for Freedom Indiana. Mark A. Lee / LGBT Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society

"We hope that for those visitors who come into the exhibit, [they] see themselves reflected in the exhibit — either directly, in that we’re featuring their stories, or indirectly, in that we’re telling stories that touch on some of their own life experiences," Batic told NBC News.

Yet the exhibit creators recognize that not all Hoosiers have or are aware of the stories and experiences LGBTQ people live on a day-to-day basis.

Related: 13 LGBTQ Films to Watch From Fall's Blockbuster Film Festivals

"For those folks that are coming to the exhibit who maybe are not familiar with the story, I hope that maybe they will have a little bit of exposure to a life experience that is not one they’re familiar with," Batic said. "In the course of that maybe [they'll] gain a little bit of appreciation for maybe their neighbors or their family members who might’ve had a different experience growing up and realize that those stories and the people that they happened to are their neighbors as Hoosiers and that maybe we can all appreciate what it means to be from Indiana as a whole."

“Be Heard: LGBT Experiences in Indiana" will include oral histories, photographs and documents from individuals and organizations.

 Jake Miller was born in 1984 in Southport, Indiana. His husband, Craig Bowen, was born in 1978 in Indianapolis. The two men met through a mutual friend at Jake's eighteenth birthday party and began dating approximately five years later. On June 25, 2014, they were the first same-sex couple to be legally married at the City County Building in Indianapolis. Courtesy of Mark A. Lee, Indiana Historical Society

"We know we’re going to be able to preserve those and make those accessible, and we’ve already had several researchers come and use those materials and visit our library and be excited to be able to hear and learn more about the stories," Suzanne Hahn, a vice president at the Indiana Historical Society, said.

More than 75 interviews with members of the LGBTQ community and their allies have been conducted as part of this exhibit. The diversity of Hoosier perspectives cuts across generational and geographical lines and reflects the complexity of a community that has recently seen tremendous change.

"I certainly hope [Hoosiers] will see their own history woven into the greater narrative of Indiana’s story and maybe feel a little bit more like the communities are being embraced and are really sort of telling [and] adding to the rich tapestry of Indiana’s history, as a group of people," Batic said.

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