Photos, interviews sought for local LGBTQA projectWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Preserving the history of Toledo’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied (LGBTQA) community is a passion for Toledo native Rick Cornett.
“It is very important for any culture, group or organization to preserve their history for future generations,” Cornett said. “In grade school and high school, students are taught history, but there is never any mention of the achievements gays and lesbians have made to society. Most often parents are not gay, so they don’t have the knowledge to teach a gay person of their history. Where does a gay person start when seeking information on their history and culture?”
Cornett’s collection includes photos documenting Toledo’s LGBTQA bars, businesses, support groups, organizations, publications, charity events and more. His memorabilia collection includes T-shirts, buttons, ticket stubs, posters and ads, wristbands, business cards and more. He is also interested in collecting oral histories.
“It is my hope that someday I can compile enough information and materials to have a Toledo LGBT Historical Society and then work off that to create a website and Facebook page,” Cornett said.
Cornett said the 2010 deaths of local gay icons Joe Wicks, founder of the former Caesar’s Show Bar, and Gregory Knott, founder of Bretz Nightclub, were the impetus behind the project.
“I’ve always saved special things that meant something to me, but I started seriously collecting things in 2010,” Cornett said. “It got me thinking the old guard is slowly slipping away and no one is doing anything to preserve their memory or what they did for the gay community. Bretz opened in 1987 and is now Toledo’s oldest gay bar. Greg would be proud that his bar continues on.
“So much of our gay history has been thrown away because of fear and shame from society,” Cornett said. “When someone closeted passes away they don’t want their straight family or friends cleaning out their homes and finding pictures, magazines, pamphlets, posters, etc., associated with anything gay. Prior to the 1970s it was taboo to take a camera into a gay bar. No one wanted their pictures taken, so pictures before the early 1970s are few and far between.
“It is my hope that when someone passes they will donate their things to my collection. So often family just tosses memorabilia away not knowing who to give it to. I want people to know I’m preserving these things and I’m interested in obtaining them.”
Cornett also collects local obituaries and newspaper and magazine clippings on subjects like gay marriage, drag queens, sports, religion, transgender issues, leather groups and gay bars as well as controversial national subjects like the Chick-fil-A boycotts and the Boy Scouts of America ban on gay scouts and leaders.
“Almost every day I add something to my files from the local, regional, national and international press,” Cornett said. “I’m also trying to collect every issue from our local gay publications, including TAGALA, Pride’s Eye, Toledo Pride Pages and Outlines. The first gay magazine we had in Toledo was Rapping Paper and it lasted from 1975 to 1978. Someone recently gave me the first 16 issues and I was so excited. I’ve learned so much about what was going on back then. R House bar started their own magazine this year to promote events within their bar and the community so I’m happy about that.”
Cornett said he started taking photos of the scene in the mid-1980s, shortly after coming out. He has thousands, but is looking for more.
“I have an outstanding photo collection in my archives from the past 27 years,” Cornett said. “Most have been taken in the bars of all the colorful people the LGBT community offers here in Toledo. I also worked as the photographer for our local LGBT publications Pride’s Eye and the Toledo Pride Pages so people are used to me approaching them for photo ops. I always have my camera with me.”
One of Cornett’s current focuses is finding photos of the exteriors of Toledo’s former gay bars.
“I still need Hooterville, Rustler, Open Closet, Scenic, Seahorse, Twilight Zone, Silver Slipper, Ivanhoe Gay Pussy Cat, Swing City, Joshua’s, Pendulum, Philcoff’s, Peppermint Club, Adventure Lounge, Bourbon Street, Celebrity Lounge, Casa Mia, Swing City USA, among others,” Cornett said. “How many people really think to take pictures of the outside of a bar?”
Sherry Tripepi, executive director of Equality Toledo, said some local groups, including Equality Toledo, have archived their own histories to an extent, but there hasn’t been a collaborative, community-wide effort to organize a history.
“For groups who experience oppression and silencing, as does the LGBT community, archiving our history is even more important so the community and others can know and learn about the depth of their experiences throughout time,” Tripepi said.
Cornett said he welcomes anyone who is interested in preserving Toledo’s LGBTQA history to join him.
“People are slowly learning about my history project and my desire to preserve our community’s presence here in Toledo,” Cornett said. “You have to have a passion for history and know it is a labor of love. I enjoy striking up conversations in the bars with people and learning new things from strangers and longtime friends. Everyone is willing to talk with me and share stories from the past if they are 50 years old or older. I think you have to be of a certain age before you really appreciate the people, places and things that paved the way for you.”
To donate to Cornett’s collection or to learn more, contact him at (419) 470-3937 or lynn firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Adventure Lounge, Bourbon Street, Bretz Nightclub, Caesar’s Show Bar, Casa Mia, Celebrity Lounge, Gregory Knott, Hooterville, Ivanhoe Gay Pussy Cat, Joe Wicks, Joshua’s, Open Closet, Outlines, Pendulum, Peppermint Club, Philcoff’s, Pride’s Eye, Rick Cornett, Rustler, Scenic, Seahorse, Silver Slipper, Swing City, Swing City USA, TAGALA, Toledo Pride Pages, Twilight Zone