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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 31, 2004

Senior group may resume LGBT oral history project

Cleveland--With the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005, thoughts turn to the inexorable march of time.

In 2004, as in previous years, scores of celebrities passed away, including Ray Charles, Marlon Brando, Isabel Sanford, Julia Child, Fay Wray, Christopher Reeve and Ronald Reagan.

Having lived their lives in the public eye, their stories are known, and each life was extensively archived and depicted in biographical form.

For heterosexual couples, there are often children to carry on family lore, going through boxes of old photographs and letters.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, however, biological families are often virtual strangers, and the chosen families of the queer community are the ones left to piece together those lives once they end.

For LGBT seniors, left out of the bar scene by age or inclination, feeling out of place in most community groups, the change of the year can be a reminder of the growing gulf between them and the days when they felt included in their own communities.

While there are some community groups that focus on LGBT elders, often these meet at most weekly, sometimes even monthly.

The Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center has created the Senior Center, a drop-in social space. Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 am to 2:30 pm, people gather at 6600 Detroit Avenue.

While Christmas Eve and New Year�s Eve reduced the drop-in center to one day a week for those weeks, after the start of the new year the hours will return to normal.

All of the activities at the Senior Center are planned by the participants, not the staff of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, which makes it the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

In addition to lunch, cards, movies, games and conversation, one task that might be undertaken in the new year by the Senior Center is the resumption of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center�s Oral History Project.

According to center communications director Tim Marshall, the Oral History Project is still under way. A small grant for it a few years ago got some volunteers out to interview people who had been in Cleveland before 1970, to get a feel for what the gay community was like in the time before Stonewall.

However, it has always been a volunteer-driven effort, and thus not always as active as the center would like.

�We get volunteers that want to help with it sporadically,� Marshall said.

The oral history project is just one aspect of the center�s history work. More information is available at www.lgcsc.org/archives.html.

The Western Reserve Historical Society has extensive archives relating to LGBT life in Northeast Ohio.

Photos, personal papers like letters, records of organizations and foundations active in the region make up the bulk of their collection, which also includes the tapes and transcripts of several dozen interviews held in the last round of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center�s oral history project, preserving LGBT life in the area for future generations.

According to the society�s Steve Doell, they have board minutes, correspondence, research and promotional materials from the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation and its successor, the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, from 1975 to 1991, as well as issues of High Gear, Cleveland�s first LGBT newspaper, and the Gay People�s Chronicle.

�If there are other organizations that are around, those are the kinds of things we�d be interested in,� Doell noted.

He specified, however, that in terms of financial minutiae, annual reports would be more helpful than boxes of canceled checks, the overall picture being more accessible and useful than the smaller snapshots.

Materials can be viewed in library of the Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Boulevard, in the University Circle area of Cleveland. The library is open 9 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and stays open until 9 pm on Wednesdays.

The society�s web site, www.wrhs.org, has an online search function that can help locate items in the collection. Those items cannot, however, be removed from the library, and photo ID is required to peruse materials, most of which can be photocopied by library staff.

�These are one-of-a-kind materials,� Doell explained.

He also said that, of the two collections donated by the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center that have been fully catalogued, 99 percent of the material is available for the reading room. A few materials are restricted at the center�s request due to the inclusion of personal information.

Those interested in donating materials can contact the historical society by calling 216-7215722.

In addition to the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, other organizations around the state work to preserve Ohio�s LGBT history.

The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus contains records of Stonewall Columbus, originally known as Stonewall Union, and the Ohio State University Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

Their web site, www.ohiohistory.org, also has online searches for materials. Be careful, though--Gay Street in Columbus comes up frequently when one searches the word �gay.�

They can be reached at 614-2972300 and are located at 1982 Velma Avenue in Columbus.

Stonewall Columbus is interested in starting their own gay archives, but are waiting until space constraints are no longer an issue.

Ohio�s other large gay community center, the Cincinnati GLBT Center, is one of two groups in Southwest Ohio keeping queer archives, according to president Harold Keutzer. While the center, at 4119 Hamilton Ave, has general GLBT archives, the Ohio Lesbian Archives at 4039 Hamilton Ave aims for more specific record-keeping. The OLA can be reached at 513-5411917, while the Cincinnati GLBT Center is at 513-5910200 or www.glbtcentercincinnati.com.

Additionally, many universities, regardless of whether or not they have LGBT studies programs, have queer archives, often connected with special collections of their libraries.

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