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Rainbow Dialogues help LGBTQ members explore their history

by Shelby Toth - News Editor
Tue, Mar 5th 2019 10:00 pm

It’s not easy for members of the LGBTQ community to learn about their past. The basics are taught in many high schools, but specific details about past important events and local gay communities near you is difficult information to come by. That’s part of the reason for Rochester’s annual Rainbow Dialogues.    

The dialogues took place this year on Saturday, March 2, at the Rochester Public Library. According to the program, the event is “a series of community building conversations demonstrating how LGBTQ history and archival documents from the past are relevant for people today.”

The dialogues consisted of an opening welcome, a keynote address presented by The College at Brockport’s Professor Bek Orr, two different breakout sessions, a panel discussion and a music reflection, as well as a free movie screening of the film “1985” after the event had ended.

During the first breakout session, there was a discussion from three men, Bob Crystal, Robert Harris and Tom Orsini, who had first-hand accounts of the Stonewall Riots. Each man discussed their individual experiences at Stonewall, as well as other pivotal moments of their lives that helped define their LGBTQ experiences.

“We didn’t think we were making history,” Orsini said of the riots. “We thought that we were going to do something down there. Several went just to have a good time. And there were a lot of people on the second day that were in New York City because that’s where you went when you were queer.”

This year’s Rainbow Dialogues was Harris’ first, as well as his first time sharing his experiences on such a platform. He got involved through Evelyn Bailey, a local woman who he previously knew through her documentary “Shoulders to Stand On” which focuses on the LGBTQ Community in Rochester. Bailey invoked his participation, as well as asking if he knew anybody else that had been involved, thus bringing Orsini into the picture.

“I was very pleased to see [so many younger people present],” Harris said. “Neither one of the three of us… we didn’t really know the extent of this whole thing until we got here and saw the program and went ‘oh s**t! This is a deal!’”

One of those younger crowd members was Teddy Scheuerman, a recent graduate of the University of Rochester. While there, Scheuerman majored in history, English and art history and researched queer history. She came to the event to learn about queer history and different channels to seek out more information, as well as learning about her own past as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“[Queer history] is something I’ve wondered about since I was a teenager and I’ve had no way of figuring that out,” Scheuerman said. “Coming to something like this has given me a lot of insights and thoughts about where to go to look for more… History and stories have always been a deeply important part of who I am and my understanding of myself and other people. Growing up gay and catholic and going to catholic school, I never had an avenue to figure out not just who I was very easily, but my history very easily.”

She noted that this year’s dialogues seemed to have a much bigger turnout than last year, something that brought her a lot of joy.

“The fact these are people that are coming not just for themselves but are going to take this information that they’ve learned and go and disseminate it amongst the rest of the city and other people that they know, that’s so important and really exciting to see,” Scheuerman said.

During both breakout sessions, there was also the option to go on an archive tour of the library, as it has recently taken a big step in supporting the LGBTQ community. According to the Rainbow Dialogues website, “the Rochester Public Library began working on a multi-year project with the Out Alliance — with support from the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library — to permanently transfer dozens of LGBTQ special collections to the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.” These collections include documents, newspapers and videos, and will now take up permanent residency in Rochester.

The dialogues themselves facilitated much discussion between attendees. During breaks in speakers, and especially during the hour lunch break, there were small groups scattered, all in deep discussion of their own experiences or other LGBTQ issues. By attending the event, it was possible to feel a strong sense of community, whether an LGBTQ identified person or not.


brockport.editor@gmail.com | @sheltoth98

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