March 14, 2018 at 3:09 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Smithsonian acquires Academy drag group’s archives

Members of the Academy joined Mame Dennis, center front, for the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2011. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History announced on Tuesday that it has acquired through a donation the archives of the Academy of Washington, D.C., an LGBT organization that produced nationally recognized extravaganza drag pageants.

“The Academy was a leading private organization in the Washington, D.C., metro area presenting, mentoring and championing female and male impersonation in the nation’s capital for 54 years,” a statement released by the history museum says.

“The collection of 16 boxes containing photos, program books, newsletters and organizational history will be housed in the museum’s Archives Center,” the statement says.

Valeska Hilbig, a spokesperson for the American History Museum, said the museum has no immediate plans for displaying some of the Academy’s archival material in an exhibit. She noted that only 2 percent of the museum’s vast collections are on display at any given time.

But she said like all of the museum’s collections, the Academy of Washington, D.C. collection will be available to researchers and authors who may wish to explore its documents and other materials that provide a rich history of one aspect of the LGBT community.

“The collection expands the breadth of the museum’s entertainment and LGBT collections and adds another component to how these artifacts document history and experience,” said Bob Horton, chair of the museum’s Archives Center.

“The collection includes programs from 54 years of ‘Golden Boy’ awards (formerly known as the Oscars, a take on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), the Miss Gaye Universe (D.C.) and Miss Gaye America (D.C.) pageants, the events of member houses and all of the performance events of the organization, as well as internal newsletters and organizational history,” according to the statement released by the museum.

Members of the Academy’s board, which donated the archival material to the history museum, announced in 2015 that the organization was disbanding after having the distinction of being D.C.’s oldest continuously operating LGBT organization with a 54-year history.

The announcement that the group was ending its operations came eight months after one of its two co-founders, Carl Rizzi, died at the age of 74. Rizzi, who was known by his drag performance name of Mame Dennis, served as president of the Academy from 1973 until the time of his death in February 2015.

As part of its LGBT collections, which date back to the 19th century, the American History Museum currently has on display two exhibits that include protest picket signs prepared by the late D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny for 1960s-era protests outside the White House. One of the picket signs is on display in the museum’s The American Presidency exhibition and the other is part of its The American Democracy exhibition.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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