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Museum Spotlights LGBTQ+ History in St. Louis


The first time Marilyn Turner saw an AARP booth at a Pride event in St. Louis, she cried.

“It’s like, yes ... a respected institution recognizes that we get older too,” says the retired St. Louis–area psychologist, who turns 73 this month.

The newest collaboration between AARP Missouri and the LGBTQ+ community is “Gateway to Pride,” an exhibit running through Sunday, July 6, 2025, at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. The 6,000-square-foot display spotlights the lives, struggles and contributions of the region’s LGBTQ+ residents.

Artifacts include a 1901 autobiography of an early member of the LGBTQ+ community from St. Louis and the track shoes of Helen Stephens, a 1936 Olympic champion from Missouri who was a lesbian. Turner helped to arrange AARP’s collaboration with the museum. She also plans to make her own contribution to the exhibit: a stock certificate from a local gay bookstore in the 1990s. The struggling business invited the community to buy stock in the company as a way to stay afloat, she notes.

The museum has been collecting artifacts for years, says Ian Darnell, its assistant curator for LGBTQIA+ collections.

EXPLORE: Gateway to Pride Virtual Exhibit

Since 2021, AARP has sponsored a virtual exhibit that features oral histories from LGBTQ+ residents and is part of the Missouri Historical Society’s broader Gateway to Pride initiative.

Turner recalls the climate when she came out at age 38. “Marriage wasn’t even thought about,” she says. “We could get fired from our jobs.”

There was an underground community—primarily bars and bookstores—where it was OK to socialize. But even that was risky, Turner says.

The exhibit “raises our visibility and shows the rest of the world that we’re here,” she says.

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—David Lewellen

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