News 160319957 Ep  1 Tvlbiqcvpgub

Wed, May 06, 2020

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Exhibitions Manager

Meet the Collaborators: Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County

Last week after years of collaboration with the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County we launched our first-ever virtual exhibition, Queer Santa Cruz! A huge feat for our small, but mighty team here at the MAH.

The opening was a moment of immense pride and celebration for both our organizations. Seven years of archiving, collecting stories, and dreaming up big plans has finally amassed into an exhibition that will live on the world wide web for all to enjoy. It has felt incredible to work with the Diversity Center to recognize and preserve the stories of the trailblazers who made Santa Cruz County's thriving LGBTQ+ community what it is today.

Speaking of trailblazers, I'd love to introduce you to two Santa Cruz locals/community superheroes/ changemakers: Pat Dellin and Dr. Rob Darrow. Both have put tremendous time and energy to not only preserving our local LGBTQ+ history but bringing this exhibition to life.

We (virtually) sat down with Pat & Rob to hear their thoughts and insider take on the exhibition, enjoy!

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Founder of the Diversity Center’s LGBTQ+ Trailblazers History Project

Pat Dellin

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Rob Balloons

Director of Research and Professional Learning with the Safe Schools Project

Dr. Rob Darrow

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Who/how was the idea for this exhibit formed?

Pat: When I approached the MAH in 2014 on behalf of the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County to offer to donate a large cache of artifacts for the MAH’s archives. And you, Marla, enthusiastically supported the idea! Together we dreamed up how the MAH should do an exhibit based on the archive one day.

Soon thereafter, the MAH awarded the Diversity Center the Dolkas History Forum grant to videotape interviews with local LGBTQ+ trailblazers. At that time, you (Marla) and I reiterated that the MAH and the Diversity Center should work together to do an exhibit after the videotaping was completed. And now here we are!

Rob: Over the past several years, I have been hearing stories from my friends about the early days of life among LGBTQ+ people in Santa Cruz. As I have talked to more people, the more I have learned about how the members of the Santa Cruz LGBTQ+ community have made important contributions in history to advocating and improving LGBTQ+ rights locally, in California and across the nation. Then I started talking with Pat Dellin who had worked to collect the archives from many people that are now in the MAH Archives. Together we wanted to highlight the important and rich LGBTQ+ history among our Santa Cruz county. And the MAH was ready to develop the exhibit. So the rest is now history.

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Exhibition Manager, Marla Novo, and Pat Dellin holding artifacts from the LGBTQ+ archives.

Why is this exhibition important to you?

Pat: This exhibit highlights the struggles, losses and triumphs of this marginalized community over several decades. The exhibit gives insight into how laws and public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and how local LGBTQ+ people faced challenges, created community, and found allies along the way. Much of this history is unknown to the general public, especially to younger people, and so this exhibit is educational.

It is also inspirational because it shows how a marginalized community can pull together in the face of big obstacles and find a way to support each other and make progress towards legal and lived equality. Many of our trailblazers first made their marks as young adults in the 1970s, and they are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. It was really important to me to gather documents and record oral histories of our community elders - while we could still remember what happened way back when!

The exhibit has been online for just one week and I’ve heard from so many people, of all ages, about how much they appreciate it and how it reminded the older ones amongst us of all that has transpired.

Rob: For so many years, the history of queer people has been hidden. This exhibition brings to life the important history and stories of LGBTQ people across Santa Cruz County.


For me, hearing about the history from those who were there has been the most rewarding part of this exhibition. One story I found very special is how one lesbian woman met her future partner at the Holly Near concert at the Civic Auditorium in 1979. Later that week, I was looking at the archives in the MAH for the exhibit and discovered the poster from that exact concert. I then sent the photo of that poster to the woman and she was thrilled. I have learned how important Holly Near concerts were for so many people.

What has been your favorite part about creating this exhibition?

Pat: My favorite thing is that the online exhibit is a major part of a bigger LGBTQ+ history effort here in Santa Cruz. A few years ago, Irene Reti made a wonderful book called “Out in the Redwoods” on LGBTQ+ people in the early days of UCSC, Rob Darrow has been creating curriculum and consulting on LGBTQ+ education for several years, and UCSC has LGBTQ+ history classes.

Today the MAH’s exhibit is online and Rob is doing webinars on various aspects of our history every week. At some point, the MAH will mount a physical exhibit in the MAH building, and then the MAH will do activities related to the exhibit and archives. I’m really looking forward to the day when our trailblazers and other members of the Santa Cruz community will be able to enter the museum together to view and discuss our historical artifacts in person at the MAH.

Rob: I agree with Pat that the most exciting part of this project has been talking with the trailblazers and other members of the Santa Cruz community about the history they lived. I look forward to when they can physically see the finished exhibit and interact with each other in person.

Hopefully, our common work will allow many more people to share their stories and discover the archives that may exist in their basements or attics or closets that can be donated to the MAH's archives so others may research the queer history of Santa Cruz County.

I have most enjoyed working with Pat and the wonderful people at the MAH to go from planning to design to implementation and whatever develops next.

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What is your favorite artifact from the archive?

Pat: When I was first looking for historical documents in boxes in the Diversity Center’s loft in 2013, I found a copy of a big flyer for the very first Pride gathering in Santa Cruz in 1975. This 11” x 17” flyer was in the middle of a cardboard box with several heavy items on top of it, and yet miraculously it was in pristine condition. I knew at that moment I had to find a place that would protect and preserve this historical artifact better than we could at the Diversity Center. I have not seen another original of that flyer since, which adds to its preciousness. It’s one of the first things I showed you (Marla) at the MAH when I proposed that the museum accept the Diversity Center’s archives, and you (Marla) were of course thrilled to see it.

Rob: There are so many favorite artifacts that it is hard to choose just one. If I had to narrow it down, there are two that come to mind. One is the photo in the Youth and Schools section that shows the students that started the first Rainbow Alliance in the county at Santa Cruz High school. The second is the news article in the AIDS section about Gerald Landers and Wesley Harris - I never knew these two men, who were partners, but they were very well-loved and appreciated based on the conversations I have had with others who did know them. They helped to establish the Santa Cruz AIDS Project that became a model for the nation. It was an immense accomplishment and a very important moment in history that we're glad will live on in this exhibition and in the archive.

What is something you hope people learn from the exhibition?

Pat: That a community like ours can start from nothing, band together, face significant challenges, and become stronger and make progress along the way. And that the struggle for legal and lived equality for LGBTQ people is still going on.

Rob: How the queer history stories of Santa Cruz County are the same stories of queer people in every county in the U.S. People in Santa Cruz County impacted the national LGBTQ rights movement and continue to do so today.

Visit the Exhibition