Western Reserve delves into gay and lesbian history

Even Cleveland's gay glitterati is amazed at itself for becoming historical packrats. At an invite-only reception Tuesday night at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the curators let 75 VIPs thumb through old diaries, letters, maps, and newsletters for its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Archives now on permanent display. The 1,500-piece collection now joins similar collections that memorialize Cleveland's African American, Irish, Jewish, sports, and philanthropic histories. The gay material dates as early as the World War II era, including a series of tropically themed murals that once hung on the walls of the old Cadillac Lounge, which opened in the 1940s as Cleveland's first gay bar. During a 20-minute dedication, the society's research director, John Grabowski, trumpeted the collection as "the best archive of gay-and-lesbian material between New York and Chicago." "Behold! This is the tip of iceberg," exclaimed Grabowski, a straight dude who doubles as an applied-history professor at Case Western Reserve University. "These are important stories to tell." But the archive isn't exactly new. The museum started collecting personal letters and memoirs in 1999 from several private donors, including Douglas Braun, Vincent Carotenuto, Victor Karp, and Aubrey Wertheim. It also acquired historic documents from the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, the Gay Pride Festival, and the Jewish-run Chevrei Tivka. Director Sue Doerfer of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community Center of Greater Cleveland joked that museum patrons will chuckle at parts of the collection 20 years from now. "They're going to say, 'Look! There's something about the gay-marriage issue,'" she said. "Then they'll say, 'What? They had a debate about that?'" The museum's manuscript curator, Steve Doell, is now accepting more donations, especially those that date before the Stonewall demonstrations in New York in the late '60s that marked the start of the gay-liberation movement. Call Doell at 216-721-5722, ext. 452. -- Cris Glaser
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