Hundreds of photographs, papers and historical objects documenting the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were added to the Smithsonian Institution's collection earlier this month, including items from the popular TV series "Will & Grace."
That show's creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, together with NBC, have donated several items to the National Museum of American History, including original scripts, casting ideas, political memorabilia surrounding the show and a copy of the series finale.
The donations range from props such as a pill bottle and flask to a sign from "Grace Adler Interior Design" and Will Truman's framed college diploma.
Kohan says the Smithsonian's interest in a show featuring gay principal characters is a validation they never dreamed about when the sitcom made its debut in 1998. The series, which ran through May 2006, depicted four friends, both gay and straight, who eventually paired up with partners and became parents.
"The fact that it's in the American history (collection suggests) maybe we were a part of something that was bigger than we ever imagined," Kohan says.
The "Will & Grace" items are just one part of the museum's larger effort to document gay and lesbian history around the country. Curators are collecting materials documenting LGBT cultural, political and sports and history, too.
The donated items include the diplomatic passports of Ambassador David Huebner, the first openly gay U.S. ambassador confirmed by the Senate, and his partner; materials from a gay community center in Baltimore; and photography collections from Patsy Lynch and Silvia Ros documenting gay rights activism.
Sports-history donations include a tennis racket from former professional player Renée Richards, who won a landmark New York Supreme Court decision for transgender rights after initially being denied entry to the U.S. Open in 1975.
"There have always been gender-nonconforming people in the U.S," says the museum's curator for sexuality and gender, Katherine Ott. "It's not talked about and analyzed and understood in the critical ways in which it should be. So for us to build the collection means we can more fully document the history of this country."
The museum's chief curator, Dwight Blocker Bowers, says, " 'Will & Grace' used comedy to familiarize a mainstream audience with gay culture. The show broke ground in the same way as 'All in the Family' did in the 1970s, around issues of bigotry and tolerance."