Montgomery College displays portraits of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated on Tuesday, July 3, 2012.

Some people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are in the public eye because of their activism or profession.

Other members of the LGBT community are less visible, living or working more or less anonymously in their communities.

Both are reflected in the Montgomery College photo exhibit, “Portraits of Life: LGBT Stories of Being.”

The free exhibit will be on view at the Takoma Park Rockville campus to Sept. 17 and includes portraits, each accompanied by a short narrative, illuminating the lives, thoughts and feelings of 19 members of the LGBT community living in Montgomery County.

One such individual is Jeffrey Slavin, third-term mayor of the town of Somerset, who helped fund the exhibit through his family’s foundation, the Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation in Silver Spring.

Slavin said the exhibit shows that people with different sexual orientations don’t just live in big cities, but also in the suburbs.

“I feel it’s important for people in the county to know we are everywhere,” Slavin said. “We contribute, small and large, to the quality of life in the county.”

Also featured in the exhibit is state Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist.14) of Burtonsville, who voted for the same-sex marriage law in the Maryland General Assembly, which now faces a referendum vote mounted by opponents in November.

Slavin and Kaiser co-chaired the steering committee that produced the exhibit, which features individuals working in a range of professions.

‘“There are people not only in politics, but also education, business, doing labor and in the school system,” Slavin said.

There also are people in the arts, including Michael J. Bobbitt, artistic director of Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo, who has been working in theater and music since his college days.

“I didn’t know that LGBT people were in every sector in Montgomery County,” said Bobbitt, who attended the exhibit’s opening reception June 20.

“We are part of the fabric of our society,” he said. “It’s comforting and exciting at the same time.”

Bobbitt said he brought his partner and adopted 11-year-old son to the reception, because he wanted his son to know that his family may be eclectic, but it is not unique.

“It’s a great pleasure to show that we are fairly normal as families go,” Bobbitt said.

Bobbitt also said he was surprised at the reception to see “how comfortable everyone was in their skins.”

The exhibit does not try to downplay the struggles that some of its subjects may have experienced with discrimination or finding their true identities, but it also does not focus on that, said Deborah Preston, dean for the arts at the Rockville campus.“It’s more about how people have overcome and made it through,” she said.

The idea for the exhibit came from Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard, who also is featured in the exhibit, said Preston.

The event is the third in the college’s “Portraits of Life” series that tells the stories of various groups in Montgomery County.

The first, in 2005, focused on survivors of the Holocaust. The second, about students attending the college, still is on display at the Rockville campus.

Preston said the third emerged from conversations Pollard had in 2011 with the MCPride group of LGBT faculty and staff on campus.

Aware of nationally publicized cases in which students had committed suicide after being bullied by their peers, the group wanted to ensure that Montgomery College was a safe place for LGBT students, faculty and staff.

With the help of Loraine Hutchins, who teaches at the college and also is featured in the exhibit, the group developed an anti-bullying statement that was adopted by the board of trustees in October.

Montgomery College also made a video of Pollard and others at the college reading the statement, as well as a video for the national “It Gets Better” campaign that helps young LGBT people who have been bullied or harassed.

Michael Meller, a commercial real estate consultant featured in the exhibit, said that the characters on TV don’t reflect the full spectrum of the LGBT community.

“They tend to be extreme as opposed to the vast majority of gay people who are just average, ordinary people,” he said.

Meller said he hopes the exhibit travels to other locations so that high school students and the general public can see it.

Preston said that later this year, copies of the exhibit will be made so that it can travel to venues such as PEPCO’s Edison Place Gallery at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as schools, libraries, art centers and the state house in Annapolis.

The exhibit’s visual concept and design were created by Donna D'Ascenzo, a graphic designer for Montgomery College. Portraits were taken by photographers Sanjay Suchak and Bill Tata, also college employees.

Interviews with participants were conducted by freelance writer David Fogel, and were edited to create the narratives by Preston and David Phillips, director of the college’s arts institute.