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Creating & Curating Change: AIDS Activism & the Fight for Same-sex Marriage in Hawai‘i

Creating & curating change: AIDS activism & the fight for same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

March 1, 2019-September 30, 2019
Location: Moir Reading Room

Highlights in Lobby Cases, March-May 2019.
Main Exhibit in Moir Reading Room, March-September 2019.

"Creating & Curating Change"—an exhibit of selections from the AIDS & Same-Sex Marriage in Hawai‘i Archives—on display at UH-Mānoa Hamilton Library.

The struggles against the AIDS epidemic and for same-sex marriage rights often dominated politics and public discourse in Hawai‘i, the nation, and the world from the 1980s onwards; Hawai’i was on the forefront of both issues. The two were deeply connected, with the activism against AIDS helping to energize the call for marriage rights. Both were full of emotion, hope, politics, research, religion, tragedy, and freedom. Worldwide, the struggles continue to this day.

The “Creating & Curating Change” exhibit highlights materials from key people involved in both issues who have donated materials to Hamilton Library’s new “AIDS & Same-Sex Marriage in Hawai‘i Archives.” This archives, founded by Dr. David McEwan and retired UH Math Professor Tom Ramsey, is housed within the Library’s University Archives & Manuscript Collections department. Department Chair and Manuscript Collections Archivist Leilani Dawson has been working intensively with McEwan and Ramsey over the past two years to organize their collections and prepare them for public access, as well as to acquire smaller collections from a number of other activists. This collaboration grew into the exhibit, which is built around the McEwan and Ramsey collections and which also features additional selections from the collections of Judge Dan Foley, Justice Steven Levinson, and Jackie Young, Phd.

The donors have contributed materials to the Library to serve as core resources that start to document the Hawai’i experience of AIDS and same-sex marriage. They hope that students, scholars and the larger community will study the materials to learn what happened here and draw lessons from Hawai‘i’s experience. The collections are already slated to be a key component in English Department Professor Derrick Higginbotham’s Spring 2020 Seminar in Cultural Studies, “Body Talk: Queer Theories/Queer Histories.”

Dr. McEwan and Professor Ramsey have established a permanent fund at the UH Foundation to support the AIDS & Same-Sex Marriage Archives. Their goals include getting the collections under their umbrella fully processed and open to the public, with extensively cross-referenced finding aids and, eventually, complete digitization of the materials, connectivity to similar archives, and worldwide open access. Tax deductible donations are appreciated to permanently support the archive.

The exhibit consists of two parts: Highlight / teaser cases in the Hamilton Library lobby (on display through May 15), and the main exhibit in the Moir Reading Room (on display through September). The lobby cases are accessible whenever the Library is open, while the main exhibit is open during the Archives’ hours, Tue-Fri, 9:30-3:30.

The exhibit features numerous documents, artifacts, and books, and other items, arranged across several themed cases and wall displays:

Highlight Case 1: AIDS (overview)
Highlight Case 2: Same-sex marriage (overview)

Main Exhibit Case 1: AIDS: The Early Years
Main Exhibit Case 2: AIDS: Lessons, Loss, and Leadership
Main Exhibit Case 3: Same-sex Marriage: The Baehr v. Lewin / Baehr v. Miike Era
Main Exhibit Case 4: Same-sex Marriage: The 1998 Constitutional Amendment Question and its Aftermath
Main Exhibit Case 5: Same-sex Marriage: Marriage Equality in Hawai‘i and Beyond
Main Exhibit Case 6: Books from Dr. McEwan’s Library
Main Exhibit Wall Display 1: Political Cartooning: Comedy During Tragedy and Tears
Main Exhibit Wall Display 2: Issue Ads: Framing & Reclaiming the Narrative
Main Exhibit Wall Display 3: Honoring Vaughn Beckman and Jackie Young


A clear message of non-support, this is one of the more polite examples of fear and bigotry that the Marriage Project Hawaii received in exchange for its efforts. These are just a few of the obituaries for local people with AIDS in Dr. McEwan's collection. AIDS information & facts in brochures and newspapers Issue Ads: Framing & Reclaiming the Narrative AIDS fundraising and education brochures from across the state.

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