Atlanta’s National Center For Civil And Human Rights Launches the LGBT Institute
by Heather Cassell
The Institute will open tonight with a two hour gala starting at 6 p.m. where guests will get a sneak peek at the “Gay Rights – Atlanta History” exhibit and learn more about the new Institute at the Center (100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, Northwest; 678-999-8990).
The exhibit will set the tone for the Institute, which plans to incorporate an academic aspect with a speaker series among other programs and the LGBT Institute Medals, an annual awards gala, reported the Georgia Voice.
“In the LGBT community and movement, there’s a lot of people working on a lot of different things, so to have a place that’s outside the beltway of New York, Washington DC; Los Angeles, or San Francisco that’s grounded in the history of the civil rights movement is inspiring,” Ryan Roemerman, interim executive director of the Institute, tells the Voice.
The underdog LGBTQ issues will get extra attention at the new Institute says Roemerman. Offering up an example of what visitors can expect, he points to the umbrella issue of marriage equality, but there is a difference between “legal equality and lived equality.”
The Institute is the Center’s first foray into delving deeper into different human rights issues for the museum that opened last summer. There’s a lot to dive into. Not a day passes that questions about issues the Institute could potentially address, says Doug Shipman, CEO of the Center.
However, LGBTQ human rights are a growing hot topic. It was important to Doug to symbolically show by having the Institute within the Center that unquestionably LGBTQ rights are human rights. It was his way of defending LGBTQ rights against popular arguments from conservatives that queers are getting special rights and the community’s struggles can’t be compared to other vulnerable communities’ struggles.
The Center addresses an impressive array of today’s human rights issues, including quite a bit about LGBTQ and women’s causes, on three levels, as Girls That Roam saw during a recent visit to the interactive museum. However, the well laid out main exhibits displaying a multitude of human rights issues doesn’t overwhelm visitors; it barely scratches the surface of the magnitude of civil and human rights abuses and the issues of communities and people who are being abused or fleeing their countries to save their own lives.
A perfect example is the United Nation’s call for sustained help to address what some reporters are calling the worse mass migration of people since World War II, in a September 1 news release from the international governing body. There are currently 7.6 million displaced Syrians due to the country’s civil war. Additionally, there are more than 4 million refugees from Africa and the Middle East flooding neighboring countries escaping homophobia, human trafficking, poverty, transphobia, war and more who are seeking safety or ongoing civil rights issues right here in the US.
In some ways, not having a lack of interesting things to talk about is a good thing, because “people want to be included and they want to be reflected,” says Doug, who three years ago sat down with Brian Tolleson, an old college friend who is CEO of BARK BARK, an Atlanta advertising agency, to discuss the Center.
Brian, who is gay, suggested an idea on how to tackle LGBTQ issues that took root in Doug. Create an Institute focused on global LGBTQ rights within the Center to help facilitate the conversation on the issue. It was in line with Center’s visionary model of “being the convener, not the authority,” as it was being created, reports the Voice.
“The notion of combining an academic element with a programmatic element around LGBT issues was one that immediately sparked our imaginations,” says Doug, who was still within the realm of building the Center and shaping its goals and purpose at the time. “That really birthed the idea of the LGBT Institute.”
The LGBTQ community continued to shape the Institute in Doug’s mind as the 42,000-square-foot facility that cost an estimated $75 million was being erected, reported the Voice.
Visitors to the Center will be able to listen to the worlds LGBTQ activists and thought leaders on civil and human rights and the Institute will be able to record the history as well as celebrate victories and honor leaders’ visions.
“It’s the combination of not just talking about what needs to be done, but celebrating what has been done,” Ryan says.
Like the Center, much of the information will be available online, or you can be one of the estimated more than 200,000 visitors to the Center this year.
As one of the Institute’s first major events, it will welcome the National HIV Prevention Conference, which is happening at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and the Marriott Marquis Hotel in December 6 – 9, with related events.
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