Natural History Museum Parts Ways With Rebekah Mercer

Revolting Lesbians in Rebekah Mercer drag on the steps of the American Museum of Natural HIstory.
Donna Aceto

Billionaire Rebekah Mercer, a generous contributor to right-wing causes and a major investor in Breitbart News, is no longer listed as a member of the Board of Trustees at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) following a sustained, years-long protest led primarily by the direct action group Revolting Lesbians.

The museum confirmed to Gay City News on February 24 that Mercer was no longer on the board, though a spokesperson would only say that her “term expired in December” and otherwise avoided questions about the circumstances surrounding her departure. Mercer first joined the board in 2013.

Mercer leads the Mercer Family Foundation, which has reportedly injected more than $50 million into organizations that deny climate change and push other far-right beliefs. She and her family — including, most prominently, her father Robert Mercer — have long maintained a low profile that has aided their ability to distribute their wealth without much attention.

Anne Maguire of Revolting Lesbians.Donna Aceto

But Revolting Lesbians thrust her name and the museum into the spotlight beginning in 2017 when members of the group started protesting AMNH for its ties to Mercer and her foundation in a way that presented a striking juxtaposition in light of the role of the museum, one of the nation’s premier scientific institutions, in highlighting the effects of climate change.

Among many contributions to and investments in right-wing organizations, Mercer has donated at least $5 million to the Heartland Institute, a climate-change denial think tank that boasts of having convinced President Donald Trump “that man-made global warming is not a crisis.”

Revolting Lesbians utilized unique tactics to draw attention to their cause. At one point in 2018, members staged a Friday the 13th “horror show” in which they dressed up as Mercer and paraded around the museum chanting, “Why am I a trustee here?” and “I do not belong at the American Natural History Museum.” There were numerous protests over the course of the two-plus years that the group targeted the museum.

During Mercer’s tenure on the board, museum spokespersons repeatedly said the AMNH did not appoint staff or trustees based on political views and maintained that trustees and donors were not making decisions about the way scientific information was presented.

Members of Revolting Lesbians said they are confident that it was their protests — as well as pressure from the public and museum members, including at least 450 scientists and out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson — that helped push Mercer out the door.

“The fact that we were turning up very regularly inside the museum and outside the museum to the point where security got to know who we are — that was not good for the museum,” Anne Maguire of Revolting Lesbians told Gay City News in a phone interview February 24. “We’re very happy [Mercer] is not on the board, and she never belonged on the board.”

Revolting Lesbians during their Friday the 13th “horror show” demonstration.Donna Aceto

Maguire said members of Revolting Lesbians have not yet determined whether they would continue targeting Mercer and her foundation’s donations to right-wing groups.

Beyond Breitbart and the Heartland Institute, the long list of organizations which the Mercers have funded include the Federalist Society, a robust legal group known for churning out conservative — and, at times, manifestly unqualified — judges appointed by Trump; the conservative think tank known as the Goldwater Institute; the Young American’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization that promotes “traditional values” and counts Trump advisor Stephen Miller among its alumni; and the Council for National Policy, an exclusive networking organization for conservatives. After initially supporting Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2016, Mercer and her father became major supporters of Trump, convincing him to bring both Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon into his orbit.

For now, Revolting Lesbians is reveling in the satisfaction that Rebekah Mercer has at least lost her sway at a prestigious museum dedicated to public education in critical areas of scientific study.

“It’s great to have a win of any kind,” Maguire said. “People have been fighting and doing all the resistance work and it seems like sometimes they don’t know what the point is. This is a big deal.”