Collecting Pride: Community Curation at the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida, Inc.

GLBT History Museum of Central Florida

What does history gain when its authors and collectors experienced it first hand?  The GLBT History Museum of Central Florida, Inc. shows how community members can tell their story in a compelling way that academic tomes often lack.

The Cold War marked an era of “censorship of inquiry into gay culture” which discouraged the study GLBT history for many historians. [1]  According to George Chauncey, the work of non-academic historians preserved gay and lesbian history prior to its acceptance as a viable field of study by the academic community.[2]  Similarly, collecting GLBT-specific material culture within museums is an effort of community collaboration with non-academic audiences.  The GLBT History Museum of Central Florida is an example of a museum completely curated by the community it serves.

Organized and managed by a dedicated board and corps of volunteers, the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida exists virtually.  Its website houses an expansive and diverse collection of photographs and documents related to the region’s GLBT history collected from and by community members. Timelines contextualize the history of Central Florida’s GLBT movement.  Additionally, the museum loans mobile exhibitions to other venues and institutions across the state.  Through online promotion and collecting efforts, the museum fulfills its mission “to collect, preserve and exhibit the history of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community in Central Florida.” [3]

The museum’s photo archive shows the vibrancy of Central Florida’s GLBT community.  The site encourages visitors to browse and download the images from the gallery.  All images are free of copyright so that anyone can use and upload images freely.  Images are organized by albums with descriptive titles and background information.  Visitors can scroll through the thousands of images or search for a particular subject or topic.  On the left sidebar, a box appears with a “Random Image.” This features allows users to discover a new document they may overlook while browsing the archive.  A document titled “What to Do if Your Child –Or Your Parent –Tells You He or She is Lesbian or Gay” appeared as my random item while exploring the archive.[4]  This document provides advice for those who find themselves in this situation and also for gay or lesbian individuals coming out to family or friends.  The selection of objects such as this highlights the challenges found within the GLBT community and members’ responses to the difficulties of coming out of the closet.  As part of Rob Eichberg’s collection of materials related to Orlando’s 1987 National Coming Out Day event, this document shows the support found within the community for this defining moment in GLBT community members’ lives.  Similarly, several albums document events dedicated to remembering those who suffered from HIV and AIDS and the ways Central Florida’s GLBT community worked to address the disease.   In conjunction with colorful images of lesbian clubs, drag balls, and gay bowling leagues, the photo archive creates an online community of memory and support.  Not just for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender, but also those who are friends, relatives, or allies of the GLBT community.

However, the photo archive, and other portions of the site, err on the side of being uplifting rather than critical.  In the telling of difficult history, documents and photographs do not show acts of violence against GLBT community members, though the timelines cite murders instigated by the victims’ homosexuality.  Nor does the archive document the physical decline many people with HIV/AIDs experienced, as expressed in the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek exhibition. [5]  Instead, this museum’s material reflects the GLBT community’s response to these issues with documents showing the fundraisers and awareness campaigns for HIV/AIDs held and pictures of businesses rebuilt after discriminatory arson.  The selection of such materials shows how community curation can influence the presentation of history.

The museum openly calls for any materials related to Central Florida’s GLBT history and welcomes additions or edits to the website.  The collection and interpretation of the museum is an example of community curation and collaboration. The museum also collaborates with the academic community of the University of Central Florida’s Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences and Stories of Central Florida.   The museum has no problem sharing authority with the community it serves.  Yes, volunteer-led organizations are not perfect but they serve a role in their communities by giving constituents a space to tell their history, an evocative story that would possibly go untold without a platform like this to tell it.

[1] George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 9.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Mission,” GLBT Museum of Central Florida, Inc., http://glbthistorymuseum.com/joomla25/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=168&lang=en

[4] “What to Do if Your Child –Or Your Parent –Tells You He or She is Lesbian or Gay,” GLBT History Museum of Central Florida Photo Archive, Rob Eichberg Album,  http://glbthistorymuseum.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=24417.

[5] Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward, Hide Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2010), 222/223, 226/227.

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