State Library of Pennsylvania Hosts LGBT Center Traveling Exhibit | Compendium

With Open Heart and Open Arms: LGBTQ Cuban Refugees and Our Community’s Response to the Mariel Boatlift

About the exhibit:

From April through October 1980 approximately 125,000 refugees fled their homes in Cuba and traveled by American ships and boats to Key West in the United States. Among those who left from the Cuban port of Mariel (and thus have become known as Marielitos) were a sizable number of LGBTQ Cubans.

These new residents of the United States were assisted in their resettlement by dedicated members of the LGBTQ community, including many from Pennsylvania who assisted at the resettlement camp in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, or helped those who settled in Pennsylvania. This exhibit explores the circumstances surrounding the exodus and resettlement, focusing on the personal stories of LGBTQ Cuban immigrants who have since made their lives in this country.

In early 2019, The John J. Wilcox Archives of the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia mounted a ground-breaking exhibit, With Open Heart and Open Arms: LGBTQ Cuban Refugees and Our Community’s Response to the Mariel Boatlift, chronicling the story of LGBTQ Cubans who were part of the Mariel Boatlift of Cuban refugees in 1980.

In preparation of the 40th anniversary of the Mariel Boatlift that occurred in 2020, the PA LGBT History Network worked with the Wilcox Archives to create a traveling exhibit based on this original exhibit. Original photos, text (in both English and Spanish languages) and documents were digitized and incorporated into the exhibit. Video clips of interviews with LGBTQ Marielitos and those who assisted in their resettlement are displayed in panels of the exhibit.

To visit the exhibit:

In cooperation with the LGBT Center, this traveling exhibit will be on display from June through August 2022 at the State Library of Pennsylvania’s temporary location in the Keystone Building, 400 North Street in Harrisburg. Please stop in to view the exhibit from Tuesday through Thursday 10AM – 4PM and Wednesday evenings until 8PM.