Silvia Ros, a lesbian photographer from Miami Shores, has officially become part of American history: The Smithsonian in Washington has acquired 86 of her freelance images to be displayed with the national museum’s growing LGBT collection.
“It’s fantastic,” said Ros, who with Anne Swanson, her partner of 10 years, will attend a Smithsonian reception Tuesday morning at the National Museum of American History.
“It was really important for me that these prints go into the Smithsonian for history,” Ros said. “But it was more important for me that I document these people who are fighting, and the reasons they have found themselves in this position to do so.”
“This fight was personal for me,” said Ros, 44, who has been on her own since age 17.
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“Growing up in a conservative Cuban household, once my family found out I was gay, they threw me out of the house. They blamed me for turning my younger brother gay. That was not true. He was pretty gay to start with,” Ros said. “When they threw me out and told people why I wasn’t at home anymore, they told people I was on drugs. To them, that was better.”
Smithsonian curators learned of Ros through a friend of hers who works at the museum, she said.
Ros carefully cataloged her photos before sending them to the museum. “I gave them really formal captions that they were happy to have, so it wasn’t just a photo, there was a story attached.”
Said the Smithsonian in a statement: “The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a long tradition of documenting the full breadth of the American experience and what it means to be an American. The LGBT narrative is an important part of that American story, and the Smithsonian has been documenting and collecting related objects for many years.”
Along with Ros’ photos, the museum has recently acquired a tennis racquet from transgender player Renee Richards, materials from the TV comedy Will and Grace (on NBC from 1998 to 2006) and diplomatic passports from former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner and his spouse, Duane McWaine.
Most of Ros’ photos were taken in Washington at the National Equality March in October 2009.
Among the LGBT activists she has captured for posterity:
• Janice Langbehn, who inspired the federal government to revise hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples after her partner, Lisa Pond, died in 2007 at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
• Felipe and Juan Sousa-Rodriguez, LGBT immigration activists from Miami fighting for passage of the DREAM Act.
• Walker Burttschell, a gay Miami Beach man discharged from the Marines in 2003, who seven years later shook Barack Obama’s hand moments after the president signed repeal of the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ standard for gays in the military.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s amazing for her,” Burttschell said Sunday, adding that his photo depicts “a really pivotal moment in LGBT history.”
“It really started public discourse on the issue,” he said. “It made it easier to talk about marriage equality and equality in the workplace.”
Ros said she hopes that through her work future generations of LGBT people will know how they achieved equality. “As rapidly as these things are changing, I want to make sure we don’t forget or lose the history of this movement.”