Before the Pride Center at Equality Park took over a sprawling, 5.5-acre campus in Wilton Manors, Broward County's first LGBT center began in a humbler, more confining place: the Victoria Park living room of its founder, Alan Schubert.
"It was awfully cramped in there," says Schubert, who led the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, as it was called then, from 1993 to 1999. "Gay organizations butted heads constantly, and were in constant competition with each other. I thought the gay community needed to get their act together and become stronger by living under one roof."
To mark the 20th anniversary of the rainbow-flag-waving fixture of LGBT resources in South Florida, memorabilia and photographs from the Pride Center's history will appear at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives' new Wilton Manors Gallery, which is presenting "A Snapshot of Service: Pride Center at Equality Park." The exhibit of Pride Center pieces, opening Tuesday, Aug. 12, and lasting through Aug. 31, coincides with the center's recent gift of memorabilia to the Stonewall Museum's permanent archives.
The most visually alluring of the artifacts and sundries may be Schubert's denim jacket, covered in a motley of early-1990s gay-rights buttons. Pins bear images of a saxophone-blaring Bill Clinton, while others contain phrases such as "Lesbian Gay Pride: Fight the Right," "Say It!! Women Get AIDS," "Young Hot Safe" and "Men of Quality Respect Women's Equality." Curator Charles Ross (favorite flair: a pink button with the words "Big Homo") says wall text describing the Pride Center's history was drawn from interviews with Schubert and the nonprofit's current CEO, Robert Boo.
Other artifacts rest behind glass display cases at the gallery, and include ornate glass plaques, HIV-AIDS-testing brochures, photos of the GLCC's first board of directors, Sun Sentinel newspaper clippings, the center's newsletter and fliers for meetings at Fort Lauderdale's Unitarian Universalist Church, an early meetup location. The nonprofit later relocated to a pair of rental buildings in Oakland Park before opening the Pride Center in 2005.
"They went from these obscure rental buildings without proper signage to this huge prominent property," Ross says. "I like to say this was their coming-out party."
Ronni Dowd, Stonewall's operations director and an administrator at GLCC during the late 1990s, says the community center provided "normalcy" during a time when support was scarce for single lesbian mothers.
"At the time, I was so naive that lesbians existed in the multitudes that we do," Dowd says. "There were support groups there that let us have a camaraderie and share in our struggles."
Accompanying the gallery's "Snapshot of Service" exhibit is "Gay Games," a display Ross says coincides with the ninth edition of the Gay Games, an Olympic-style event that will kick off Saturday in Ohio. The show features wall text and poster art dating to the inaugural games in 1982.
A Snapshot of Service: Pride Center at Equality Park
When: Aug. 12 through Aug. 31; 2-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Where: Stonewall Museum — Wilton Manors Gallery, 2157 Wilton Drive
Contact: 954-763-8565 or StonewallNationalMuseum.org