Cassidy Meurer, co-curator of
Cassidy Meurer, co-curator of "Fairness Does a City Good: A 25 Year Retrospective," in the lower level of UofL's Ekstrom Library.

In the lower level of the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library archives is a little-known treasure trove – the Williams Nichols collection, one of the largest LGBTQ+ collections of photos and artifacts in the country. A new complement to the extensive collection is “Fairness Does a City Good: A 25 Year Retrospective,” an exhibit commemorating 25 years since the passing of LGBTQ+ inclusive, non-discrimination ordinances in Louisville and Lexington. The library exhibit, part of the University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, is open to the public weekdays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. throughout 2024. 

Highlighting the local impact of the fairness ordinances, the exhibit reintroduces stories from the movement that paved the way, provides insight into effective activism and celebrates a history of progress towards equality.

Cassidy Meurer, a UofL graduate in art history and Chad Kamen, both employed by the Ekstrom Library in archives and special collections, co-curated the exhibit in partnership with the Fairness Campaign Louisville.

“In 2023, we reached out to the Fairness Campaign team to imagine and create a retrospective of 25 years of non-discrimination legislation in the city of Louisville and the larger wave of anti-discrimination legislation,” said Kamen, who came to the university in August 2023. “We were able to collaborate with their team, past and present and future leaders, to tell a story that’s about organizing many types of skills, people, organizations and tools to come together to make change possible and make justice and equity possible.”

“This room is a local journey from the first hate crimes bill in 1990 spurred by a cross-burning in front of a family’s home to passage of the Fairness ordinance in 1999,” Meurer said. “We wanted to share the historical eight-year struggle they endured to get this non-discriminatory legislation passed. We want to spread the word to acknowledge why it’s so important since there is a trend in our country right now to dismantle these protections.” 

From the earliest days of the LGBTQ+ movement to today, Kamen said UofL students have been essential to the journey.

“Throughout the entire arc of the fairness campaign from creation to its present, students have played an integral part in pushing for broader acceptance for LGBTQ+ people in the city of Louisville and more broadly the state of Kentucky,” Kamen said.

UofL’s LGBT Center also has been supportive in building out the project.

“As a queer person who grew up in Louisville, I didn’t have a lot of role models here and felt quite alone growing up,” Kamen said. “The process of creating this exhibit taught me to see a Louisville I wanted so badly to have access to as a kid and didn’t know existed, so it’s beautiful to see so many sides to the city and that there is a place for everyone here.” 

How has the past informed the present-day struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals?

According to American Civil Liberties Union data, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the United States in 2023, nearly three-times the number of such bills introduced in 2022.

“It’s really easy to get fearful but there is a message of hope through everything. Enduring the struggle for justice is something we can all be part of and bring our own skills to,” Kamen said.

Cecilia Durbin, a communications and marketing specialist for UofL libraries, said the exhibit is a good example of how to continue to address issues faced by LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups.

“We need to be building community, we need to be reminding people of the journey it took to get to where we are now,” she said.

Learn more about the exhibit