Proud summer: a dive into Cleveland's Rich LGBTQ+ History

A reflection on the research and time spent with The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland by one of The Center's 2023 summer interns.

August 3rd, 2023 | By: Liv McDowell, 2023 Summer Intern

As I sit here in my final week with The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, there are a few things I want to say,

Firstly, thank you all so much for welcoming me into the LGBT Center. As a staff, I have met some amazing people, heard some great stories, listened to some interesting music, and received my first experiences in the non-profit world. Because of my placement through The Cleveland Foundation, I have been able to not only document the history of Pride in the CLE, but also uncover the rich history for myself as a young, Black, east-sider apart of the LGBTQ community. Growing up, it would have been nice to know these resources were available and that the history was so vast and significant, so in a way I have done some healing this summer as well. Through this opportunity I have been able to broaden my resources and take things I have learned from you all to my school LGBT organization.

My goal for this summer was to develop myself as a young professional interested in social justice, but also to provide you all with something to pass onto future interns so they are equipped with the knowledge of Cleveland LGBT History, and also alleviate some of the tasks for the general staff during the process of Pride in the CLE, such as; providing FAQ templates to ease the front desk, providing them with the roles of volunteers and designating their project of facilitating the meet & greet, answering Pride specific emails, and of course, merchandise! This handbook of course can be an ever-evolving document to assist more than just the interns, and I am excited for it to be utilized by this wonderful team.

I am pleased to present the essential facts I have collected over the course of my time here at The Center that I think an Intern and our community at large would think were of import, or should take away from The Center’s history.

  • The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland started from a Gay Student Organization at Cleveland State University
    • It took some steps to get here, BUT! The Gay Education Awareness and Resources Foundation was kickstarted by the funds of then student Art Macdonald, and his partner Michael Madigan.
    • As an intern, I love how the Center that is standing today truly embodies the original mission to disseminate information on (at the time homosexuality) but in the present day, the spectrum of gender and sexuality to all parts of the community, no matter how they identified. In addition to providing social services and supporting lgbt people and groups that serve the community.
  • High GEAR, the Speakers Bureau, Gay Hotline, and the Gay Community Center were all fully volunteer operated, even after its incorporation as a non-profit foundation in 1975.
    • I want to take note of the significance of people of color in the process of creating spaces for other minorities. John Nosek, Leon Stevens and Art MacDonald approached various newspaper printers in the city and the ONLY publisher that agreed was Call and Post, Cleveland’s weekly Black Newspaper. Publisher and Editor William Walker even designated some of his own staff to volunteer and educate High Gear staffers on copy, layout and design. 
    • Denying a syndication of High GEAR with Pittsburgh Gay News, by August, Nosek and Stevens were able to secure advertising which generated most of the revenue to operate the Gay Hotline and Gay community Center.
  • At one point, the Gay Community Center was actually run out churches
    • Before leaving Cleveland to continue education in Chicago, Macdonald combined his ministry with his mission, through the Cleveland Metropolitan Community Church and St. John’s Episocopal Church until eviction due to homosexual activists on church grounds.
  • PRYSM which was Presence and Respect for Youth in Sexual Minority echoed the current missions of QYou and SLAY, providing spaces for leadership development and community within LGBT youth.
  • Overarching lesson I’ve learned from researching the history of Pride in the CLE is “hard work, dedication, and preservation”
    • Though pride demonstrations have been put on by various organizations including our own, as well as Cleveland Pride. Given the many needs of the community, representation has always been a collaborative effort. From the beginning, Pride is about working together to show our place and where we belong in society. I recall reading that during the earliest Pride marchest, people were not allowed to be affectionate with their partners or dress anything like we do today at Pride, it was truly a march to show the significance and importance of the LGBT+ community as deserving citizens. Participating closely with my first Pride behind the scenes, the resilience towards the goal of expressing freely is undeniable, and we are here, still.

I want to conclude on this quote found while at the archives,

“We believe the myths of the past will give way to the enlightenment of the future” -GEAR

Prior to this internship opportunity, I started to learn the true importance of not only looking into history, but looking into and becoming acquainted with the acts of resistance and resilience that bring us to where we are. It is amazing how the Center has blossomed and remained true to the goals of GEAR and continues to enlighten and influence the community positively, despite the trials and tribulations that tried to stand in the way. 

For my next steps, I will continue to serve on the executive board of my school’s LGBT organization as Co-President for the 2023-24 school year. In addition, I recently was granted a position for URGE (Unite for reproductive and gender equity) in which I will be able to build my digital portfolio through the Our Folks program through blog posts, my artwork and published journals. Thank you all so much for an amazing summer and I hope to see you all at the next Pride in the CLE!

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Liv McDowell is a rising senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and is studying Comparative Women's Studies and Art History. Over the last few months, Liv played a vital role in ensuring the successful execution of Pride in the CLE and assisted in developing a historical narrative of The Center's history. She joined The Center as a part of The Cleveland Foundation's summer internship program, which has served as a pipeline for college students interested in non-profit work.

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