Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Movies, Books, Histories...Our LGBT Center

One of the enjoyable things about being retired is not having to wake up to an alarm clock.  Waking up when one's body says it's time to get up has  been a luxury I'd long looked forward to.  And it is what I hoped it would be.

However, three mornings a week I wake up to the annoying beeps of the clock (and the urging of the cat to turn the damned thing off) so I can volunteer at our LGBT Center.  I like to volunteer at the Center.  It gives me the sense that I'm doing something not just for the LGBT community but for central Pennsylvania in general.  Not-gay people come in to ask questions, advice, or to express concerns.  Paid staff is on duty, so if I feel inadequate to answer their questions, I ask a staff person to help.  Nothing hostile has happened yet; I'm grateful for that.

Although it's located in Harrisburg, the LGBT Center is designed to serve the region.  There are some related activities in Lancaster and Carlisle, but there are many other towns and small cities and acres of countryside that have gay people who should know about us.  (It's kind of funny that I'm a volunteer yet talk about the Center in terms of "we" and "our.")

What I find exciting (a word I haven't used in terms of work in decades) is that we're becoming an LGBT resource center.  We already had a reasonably good book library of both fiction and non-.  We also had a few DVDs of LGBT movies.  Not porn, although there is "adult content" in some of them, but gay-genre movies.  Almost all of them are independent, not-Hollywood movies.  The DVD library has started to grow, thanks to donations by two men and the TV series In the Life.  We have most of the episodes from that series and they've proved to be a good resource.

The movies, on the other hand, have generated some interest.  We have documentaries and fiction movies.  Documentaries include 8: The Mormon Proposition, Bridegroom, Word Is Out, How to Survive a Plague, Small Town Gay Bar, and Stonewall Uprising, to name a few.  Regular feature films range from Hollywood efforts like Some Like It Hot, Making Love, and Milk to largely unknown but excellent movies like Cloudburst, Beautiful Thing, Cowboys and Angels, As Luck Would Have It, To Die For, You Are Not Alone, Defying Gravity, Lovebirds, and many more.  We also have several DVDs of short films.

Because of my interest in movies, I've been assigned the duty of cataloging the films.  Some of that is tiresome (making the borrower's cards) and some of it is excellent (taking the DVDs home to watch so I'll know what they're about when someone asks).

There are problems, of course.  We have only two lesbian movies.  One was contributed by a staff member and the other because, well, it's Cloudburst.  We also have very few movies about people of color.  And that brings up a problem the Center is trying to solve.

Harrisburg's majority population is African American and Hispanic.  The Center has practically no non-white representation.  Obviously, this makes no sense, except that both the black and Hispanic communities tend to be deeply closeted.  A black woman from another city, a woman who started that city's LGBT Community Center's African American groups, offered an observation that makes sense.  There are clusters of African American gays in Harrisburg but, because of attitudes, they remain isolated.  However, there is one person who knows people in most of those groups.  We need to find that person and get him/her to advocate for the Center so we can host groups that they want.

Right now, our programs include a women's group, two Aging with Pride groups, an open mic night, an AA meeting, and a youth program that has really caught on.  But whatever the gender or age, it's all so white...especially for a city that's primarily African American and Hispanic.  What to do?

Another exciting project is our LGBT History Project, a collection of LGBT memorabilia and oral histories that, at some point, will be completely accessible on a website and can be seen in person at Dickinson College in nearby Carlisle.  We've all been pretty surprised by some of the objects and stories this project has turned up.

I love my tribe, and I'm delighted I've found a way to serve it...even if it means waking up to the alarm clock (and an irritated cat) three mornings a week.