LGBT At­lanta history ex­hibit opens at civil rights cen­ter

Ex­hibit un­veil­ing co­in­cides with launch of the LGBT In­sti­tute

GA Voice - - Georgia News - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights in down­town At­lanta has un­veiled an ex­hibit doc­u­ment­ing the strug­gles and tri­umphs of At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity. The ex­hibit’s launch dou­bles as the of­fi­cial open­ing of the LGBT In­sti­tute, an in­ter­na­tional LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tion housed in the Cen­ter that will also in­clude an ed­u­ca­tional com­po­nent and, even­tu­ally, an an­nual awards gala.

Cen­ter of­fi­cials, the In­sti­tute’s pro­gram­ming board and other com­mu­nity mem­bers marked the oc­ca­sion at a Sept. 2 event that was the first look at the ex­hibit, ti­tled “For­ward To­gether: A Look at At­lanta’s LGBT History Since Stonewall.”

“The ex­hibit por­trays the vi­brant history and dif­fi­cult strug­gle of At­lanta’s mod­ern gay rights move­ment,” said Ryan Roe­mer­man, the In­sti­tute’s in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “From the cat­alyz­ing events dur­ing the 1969 Stonewall Ri­ots in New York City, to At­lanta’s ac­tivists and or­ga­ni­za­tions, protests and marches, le­gal set­backs and tri­umphs. The ex­hibit high­lights nearly 50 years of im­por­tant so­cial history.”

LGBT ar­chiv­ists col­lected 500 ob­jects

The ex­hibit is the cul­mi­na­tion of a months-long process that be­gan by pulling to­gether a cu­ra­to­rial team drawn from across At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing:

Hillery Rink, Pres­i­dent of the Ge­or­gia LGBTQ Ar­chives Pro­ject

Morna Ger­rard, Vice Pres­i­dent of the Ge­or­gia LGBTQ Ar­chives Pro­ject; Women and Gen­der Col­lec­tions Ar­chiv­ist within the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions and Ar­chives at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity Li­brary

Dave Hayward, Co­or­di­na­tor, Touch­ing Up Our Roots, Inc.

Ash­ley Erin Coleman, Ed.M. Emory Univer­sity Ph.D. Can­di­date, Grad­u­ate Di­vi­sion of Re­li­gion; Per­son, Com­mu­nity and Re­li­gious Life Pro­gram and Re­search As­so­ciate; Whose Beloved Com­mu­nity? Black LGBT Lead­ers Pro­ject

Ac­tivists from the Ge­or­gia LGBTQ Ar­chives Pro­ject started work­ing on a timeline first. Luck­ily, Ar­chives Pro­ject mem­ber Cal Gough had done an LGBT At­lanta history timeline for Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity’s web­site, so they used that as a jump­ing-off point and added as they went along.

Ar­chiv­ists from the Ar­chives Pro­ject be­gan pulling to­gether ma­te­ri­als for the ex­hibit, of which about 80 per­cent came from Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity and the rest from Spel­man Col­lege, the At­lanta History Cen­ter and Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity, ac­cord­ing to Ger­rard. Then all the im­ages had to be res­canned to a higher res­o­lu­tion suit­able for dis­play.

“It was a mas­sive chore,” Ger­rard said. “I think I gave [the Cen­ter’s Di­rec­tor of Ex­hi­bi­tions and De­sign] David Man­del al­most 500 ob­jects.”

They also pulled to­gether ex­cerpts from 20 oral his­to­ries, but there wasn’t room for them in the ex­hibit. Ger­rard says they hope to be able to use them if there is an online ver­sion of the ex­hibit.

Cre­at­ing a nar­ra­tive

Hayward was tasked with cre­at­ing a nar­ra­tive ty­ing to­gether the ma­jor mo­ments in At­lanta LGBT history across five decades.

“We di­vided the nar­ra­tive into Ac­tivism, Public Opin­ion and the Law, Civic Events, Peo­ple, and Places,” Hayward told Ge­or­gia Voice. “Thus the ex­hibit is about land­marks in our long march to free­dom, rather than about the growth of our var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, so I’m hop­ing that the women’s com­mu­nity and trans com­mu­nity and peo­ple of color are cov­ered in more depth in sub­se­quent pre­sen­ta­tions. Of course all our com­mu­ni­ties are rep­re­sented in this ex­hibit, al­beit not thor­oughly.”

Ger­rard echoes Hayward’s com­ments re­gard­ing putting more of an em­pha­sis on the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity and peo­ple of color in the fu­ture, say­ing that there just aren’t enough archival ma­te­ri­als avail­able from those com­mu­ni­ties.

“We want to do the history jus­tice, but we don’t have the col­lec­tions that com­pletely cover ev­ery­thing,” she said. “My hope is that at the end of the day, this ex­hibit will en­cour­age peo­ple to do­nate their ma­te­ri­als so that ar­chives around the state will get more and more ma­te­ri­als.”

Next steps for the LGBT In­sti­tute

Both Roe­mer­man and Ger­rard were ea­ger to men­tion that this is just the first of many LGBT ini­tia­tives the In­sti­tute plans on tack­ling.

“In terms of the ex­hibit, I think this is a jump­ing-off point. We have to see it as a history of LGBT At­lanta, it’s not the history,” Ger­rard said.

The In­sti­tute’s pro­gram­ming board met in late Au­gust and walked out the door with a plan to ad­dress the im­prove­ments needed with three sys­tems: crim­i­nal jus­tice and safety, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment, and public health and well­ness.

“These sys­tems af­fect our ev­ery­day lives, and LGBT peo­ple are of­ten at a disad­van­tage when it comes to ac­cess and pro­tec­tion,” Roe­mer­man said.

The In­sti­tute will hold its first public event on Novem­ber 2 at the Cen­ter. They will ex­plore these sys­tems and de­velop strate­gies on how to im­prove them. More de­tails will emerge as the event ap­proaches.

“I fore­see a lot of ac­tiv­i­ties that will help bring about change,” Ger­rard said of the In­sti­tute’s fu­ture. “It’s not just like, ‘Well, let’s talk about stuff.’ We’re re­ally hop­ing that peo­ples’ lives will im­prove and that aware­ness will be in­creased and sub­stan­tive re­sults will come out of the work that we’re do­ing.”

“It was a mas­sive chore. I think I gave [the Cen­ter’s Di­rec­tor of Ex­hi­bi­tions and De­sign] David Man­del al­most 500 ob­jects.”

—Morna Ger­rard, Vice Pres­i­dent of the Ge­or­gia LGBTQ Ar­chives Pro­ject and Ar­chiv­ist for the Women and Gen­der Col­lec­tions at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity

LGBT In­sti­tute of­fi­cials say the LGBT At­lanta history ex­hibit is the first of many ini­tia­tives to come. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

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