Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Gay Are We: Exhibit Showcases History of Northeast Ohio LGBT Community

From its spot hanging in the Western Reserve Historical Society, an art deco mural from the former Cadillac Lounge, Cleveland's first LGBT bar, resonates a sense of freedom that was limited when the '40s nightclub was in operation at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue. See more items chronicling the fight for equality — including pride posters, sports costumes, vintage rainbow flags and issues of High Gear, Cleveland's first LGBT newspaper — in The Victory of Self: The LGBT Community in Northeast Ohio exhibit, open through Dec. 31. We chat with John Grabowski, WRHS senior vice president, about inspiration for the exhibit and what's a must-see.

Cleveland Magazine: Where did the title come from?

John Grabowski: We wanted to do something that related to the Gay Games — victory, winning in the games. What I see happening as a historian … is the struggle to be one’s self — to live the way one was born. It is a victory of self, or toward a victory of self, because for many, it is still not realized.

CM: The exhibit is created from the LGBT Archives of WRHS. What aspect of the archives does it focus on?

JG: It focuses on the diversity of the LGBT community. We have things that show the racial diversity, the religious and ethnic diversity. For people that are not members of the LGBT community, it is the realization that this is not a monolithic community. These are people that have different viewpoints, different ethnicities. That fits very well in Cleveland, because Cleveland is very a diverse place.

CM: What part of the exhibit should we look out for?

JG: We wanted some depth in the gallery. We thought that video of some of the activities was a good way to do that. [Videographer] Chris Rogers put together a stupendous 11 1/2-minute rapid-fire video that looks at Cleveland and also looks at some of our archive. It deals with issues, people, the diversity, the community – there are shots of the pride parade, various award ceremonies. We’ve had some people in tears after watching it.

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