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In the name of love (pride)

As Orlando prepares for Come Out With Pride, we highlight some reasons to be proud of our LGBT community

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By BIlly Manes

When we last visited with the folks behind the GLBT History Project in 2006, there seemed to be an insurmountable task at hand. The cobbling together of a reputable timeline from the yellowing newsprint and paraphernalia surrounding a community that was at best secretive and at worst persecuted for much of its existence came off, though honorable, as a catch-up exercise in hearsay. Stacked in a musty backroom of the Center, the old salacious Parliament House posters and candid personal photos awaited organization, a scrapbook, a legacy.

Now in its seventh year exhibiting at Come Out With Pride, the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida (recently incorporated as a nonprofit) has grown its archives to more than 5,000 items (many of which are visible online at gayorlandohistory.com), even if it doesn’t necessarily have a permanent place to put them. The all-volunteer board continues to collect and curate, and with the explosion of social media, has become far more adept at placing its bric-a-brac in appropriate context via simple communication and photo- tagging.

“These are people who are really dedicated,” says Ken Kazmerski, the museum’s board president. “It’s just that we want to save our history. That’s it. We don’t want it lost.”

Though it maintains a “mobile museum” which has popped up at Orlando International Airport, Darden Restaurants corporate offices and Wells Fargo headquarters, the group can’t seem to strike a fair deal with the Orange County Regional History Center (which doesn’t want it) or University of Central Florida (which would maintain ownership of it) that suits their collection. The Metropolitan Business Association, Orlando’s LGBT chamber of commerce, and Come Out With Pride have leaned in with rental for storage space, but Kazmerski still hopes for a permanent home someday. For now, its pride of place is in the “big tent” at this year’s Come Out With Pride celebration. Kazmerski says the museum’s space has doubled to 10 by 10 feet this year.

The museum has two special tributes planned this year, in addition to its usual timeline and “wall of remembrance” honoring locals who have perished. One is honoring deceased gay activist – and Kazmerski’s former UCF student – Saviz Shafaie, who fled Iran after being one of the first to speak openly about homosexuality in the 1970s and went on to champion important gay causes in Orlando. The other celebrates Jack Nichols, who helped launch the underground gay activist group Mattachine Society in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s before relocating and becoming an activist in Cocoa Beach. Both are part of a rich gay Floridian history that’s worth digging for, especially for Kazmerski who says he is in this for “the long haul.”

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