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OPALGA+ reflects on group's early years at gallery discussion
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2020-01-29

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To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Oak Park Area Lesbian & Gay Association + ( OPALGA+ ), the co-founders/authors of a new limited-edition book— The Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association: Stories From the History-Making First Decade—shared memories of the organization's early years Jan. 25 at Oak Park River Forest ( OPRF ) Museum.

OPRF Museum Archivist Elizabeth Nichols welcomed the packed house to the facility. Nichols said OPRF Museum holds OPALGA+'s archives and is featuring an exhibit, "Proud Oak Parkers: OPALGA+ at 30," that will run through Feb. 29.

OPALGA+ co-founder Nathan Linsk moderated the event, at one point adding that the book project was in memory and honor of his late partner of 34 years and fellow co-founder, Mel Wilson. According to Linsk, OPALGA+ got started due to a confluence of events happening in Oak Park at a time where gay and lesbian people were starting to be recognized within civic and governmental entities, and organized to advocate for inclusion of sexual orientation in the village human rights ordinance.

Co-authors Rebekah Levin, Jim Kelly, Bob Trezevant, Phil Bellerive and Ray Johnson ( who also served as an Oak Park Village Trustee during 2003-14 ) also spoke about OPALGA+'s beginnings. ( Bellerive and Johnson spoke via phone. )

Levin, the first female co-chair, said Wilson was her entree into what would become OPALGA+ due to her involvement in the queer women-focused Lavender Bouquet.

"Back then, everything was hidden," said Levin. "We never advertised publicly about anything we were doing. We always used code words … in order to find each other here in Oak Park."

When Levin got the call from Wilson, she said the idea of merging gay men and lesbians into one organization with a goal of integrating into the life of the village was exciting to her because Lavender Bouquet was only a social-event group.

Bellerive said that until OPALGA+ got started LGBT people in Oak Park did not know each other and at first he was not sure it would last three months or a year much less still be around 30 years later.

Kelly pointed out that, since many members were not out at the time, they had to send any mail about the organization with an anonymous return address.

Trezevant recalled those who came to the first meetings of what became OPALGA+ and their commitment to developing a gay and lesbian presence as part of the larger community.

Johnson spoke about his entry in the book, including a quote from former President Barack Obama about when Americans take care of each other, the nation soars—and Johnson added that the quote sums how OPALGA+ operates.

Longtime PFLAG leader Nancy Johnson spoke about her gay son being their conduit into LGBT-focused organizations, and how she served as the phone contact for the OPALGA+ youth drop-in programs.

Others spoke as well. Jane Anderson described how OPALGA+ helped nurture the Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization ( BUNGALO ).Steve Glickman spoke about how vital the Prism Youth drop-in center was, especially during OPALGA+'s early days.

Some of the other speakers included Beacon Unitarian Church member Betsy Davis, Oak Park Village Trustee Colette Lueck, former Oak Park Village Clerk and straight ally Sandra Sokol, and Levin's mother, Doris Levin.

The book will be available as a downloadable PDF via OPALGA+'s website in the coming weeks.

See OPALGA.org and OPRFMuseum.org/exhibits .


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