“100 Years of LGBTQ History” Exhibit Details Queer Progress in the Popular Saugatuck-Douglas Community


When work began on “A Century of Progress – 100 Years of LGBTQ History in Saugatuck-DouglasNow on display at the Old School House Gallery at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center (SDHC), curator and executive director Eric Gollannek and director John Kerr knew perceptions of the region would be surprisingly upset.

While Saugatuck is well known as a queer inclusive oasis – travel rate aggregator Orbitz has listed the city among places like Tokyo, Las Vegas and Guadalara in its “10 hottest gay destinations”In 2019 – Saugatuck’s neighbor Douglas turned out to be the more enveloping of the two municipalities.

Kerr is quick to note that the location of The Douglas Dunes Resort, established in 1981 by Carl Jennings and his business partner and husband Larry Gammons, sits across the river from Saugatuck. That’s because Saugatuck town officials would not sell property to the couple, canceling their original Lake Street bed and breakfast plans. “They didn’t want ‘these people’ in Saugatuck,” Kerr said.

On their way out of town, however, they saw the 22-room Amity Motel for sale in the adjacent town, which had fewer qualms about two male associates owning a business. Over the decades, Douglas would remain the most inclusive city, a fact Kerr and Gollannek hope vacationers and locals alike will find surprising.

Quoting Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, who continues to omit protections for queer and tran citizens at the state level, Kerr said the village of Douglas passed its ordinance prohibiting “discrimination in the home based on sexual orientation” in the late 1990s. An ordinance similar to Saugatuck was adopted in 2008. In Kerr’s mind, this 11-year gap exists because those in Saugatuck thought they “didn’t need it.”

It is the ongoing struggle for “civil rights, human rights” – the ability to buy a house, rent a hotel room, get together and get married – that Gollannek says is at the heart of “A Century of Progress”, which is likely to spark controversy in lake communities.

“Being in a small town, everyone gets along. You’re not going to fight with the neighbors… and Saugatuck likes to think of himself as welcoming, ”Gollannek told Pride Source.

“But Saugatuck didn’t allow the pride flag to be hung until 2020,” Kerr said. “In Douglas, anyone could hang a flag, any flag. “

Noting that “all events take place,” Gollannek, who grew up in Detroit and holds a doctorate. in the history of art, said: “Discrimination against homosexuals at the local, state and national levels has happened well in living memory. This is our recent past.

As planning for the exhibition began in earnest in 2019, “A Century of Progress” was built on the long-standing work of “The homosexual history project», A collection of audio and video stories, photographs and other ephemeral documents created in 2006 by Dr. Jim Schmiechen, professor emeritus, Central Michigan University and SDHC.

Schmiechen, one of the founding members of the center, began compiling archival material and oral histories in the mid-2000s and then collaborated with the local history office at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Kutsche for “Summer stories. “The GVSU partnership generated an additional 40 hours of interviews and enabled 2,000 documents and photos to be digitized.

Two events in 2019, one national, the other closer to home, provided the impetus to build on nearly 15 years of research on what Gollannek calls “a first draft of LGBT history in Canada. lakeside ”: the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in June and the death of the local queer pioneer Carl Jennings in February. The timeline of the exhibit integrates local people, places and events within the context of regional and national queer history. Gollannek and Kerr hope that seeing the Saugatuck-Douglas stories on tracks parallel to the narratives of the United States and Michigan will encourage others to share their anecdotes and artefacts so that this inaugural exhibit turns into larger successive exhibits encompassing even more. ‘stories.

With the inclusion of the “History Book: LGBTQ Portraits” on display in the second floor gallery of the SDHC, that hope is immediately realized. Featuring bright and daring portrayals of people from Saugatuck-Douglas and beyond, a renowned Chicago artist David Lee Csicsko and historian / author Owen Keehen create an exhibition filled with exceptional people, many of whom may be unknown but fascinating nonetheless. Local figures include pioneers like Jennings and her husband Gammons, as well as a pioneering puppeteer and television creator. Burr tillstrom. Tillstrom created Kukla, Fran and Ollie and mentored Shari Lewis and Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, but was never publicly identified as gay during his lifetime.

Made possible, in part, by a grant from Michigan Humanities, Gollannek considers “A Century of Progress” like this – part of the progression of LGBTQ + people around the world – but he points out that history, queer and otherwise, extends beyond the places, people and events of today. “The timeline shows some progress,” he said, “but it also reveals that gay people do not enjoy full protection against discrimination in our country. “

Gollannek, along with Kerr, Csicsko, and Keehen, encourage visitors to interact with the exhibit, whether that’s by answering questions about the region’s LGBTQ + history, contributing their own stories, or inviting other members of the exhibit. the community to attend. “This (exhibit) legitimizes the history and stories of the LGTBQ,” Gollannek said. “I hope people can see themselves there and realize that things they might not think are important are worth preserving.”

“A Century of Progress: 100 Years of LGBTQ History in Saugatuck-Douglas” is now on display at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, 130, rue Center Ouest, Douglas. The SDHC is open from Friday to Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the “History Book: Portraits LGTBQ” exhibition and exhibition is free and all members of the public are welcome.


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