Launched on World AIDS Awareness Day 12/01/2015, THE LAVENDER EFFECT’S Oral History Project features the dramatic and poignant story of West Hollywood’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in its early days. Through in-depth interviews an important chapter of community history is being preserved and made available online for current residents, LGBTQ youth, and the broader public.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an experience designer and creative producer for multimedia projects ranging from interactive science museum installations about entomology to theme park attractions celebrating California’s inspiring history. I also had the honor to work as a Creative Producer for Stephen Spielberg, who was developing the Shoah Foundation at the same time, as well as Jerry Bruckheimer Films doing “behind the scenes content.” All those early experiences gave me a strong understanding of knowing an audience and documenting relevant stories.
Following proposition eight in 2008, I mentored a young group of activists to research, design, and install a comprehensive exhibit on LA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) history called “Lavender Los Angeles.” That intergenerational collaboration resulted in an award-winning exhibit and book that revealed the queer lineage that defines our diverse community. The experience also revealed that there is SO much more to document and teach the general public. So I founded a nonprofit called THE LAVENDER EFFECT in 2012 to continue this important work.
Young City at War documents the struggles of the LGBTQ community and allies to respond to the AIDs crisis in West Hollywood in the 1980s. What inspired you to undertake this project?
Inspired by Spielberg’s Holocaust Survivor Testimonies, my nonprofit launched an LGBTQ Oral History Project in 2012. We interviewed 15 LGBTQ Pioneers including Rev. Malcolm Boyd, Ivy Bottini, Dr. Don Kilhefner, Jewel Thais-Williams, Bill Rosendahl, and Dr. Virginia Uribe. Themes and connections emerged and I discovered the AIDS Epidemic started just as West Hollywood was being established as a safe place for the gay community.
What challenges and successes did you encounter in the course of the project?
We have received extremely positive feedback on the video segments we produced. Many people acknowledged the quality and impact of these videos and we continue to collect feedback online. Like many content creators for the social good, we are always trying to get more eyes on our pages and content.
I was surprised how emotional our subjects were about this topic. Most of our interviewees have discussed their role in the AIDS epidemic for the last 30+ years. Yet these discussions continue to bring up grief and trauma from those early years in this crisis. Although this validated the project’s intentions, I couldn’t help but want to continue and continue and expand the catharsis.
What has been the response so far from the community? Has the project fulfilled your hopes?
The community greatly appreciated Young City At War and is encouraging us to do more interviews and to expand the archive. We are also very interested in re-purposing the content into a full-length documentary with a similar theme. Our next step will likely be to partner with other AIDS/HIV related organizations to begin our educational curriculum.
This project has given me a much deeper sense of my community and what was possible when we worked together to battle an invisible enemy. I have such great respect for the individuals and organizations that accomplished so much over the last 30+ years, and continue to do more. Serving my community is a true honor and this is just the beginning.
What are your plans for the future?
People need to see themselves in these stories and I’m hoping to expand the AIDS/HIV interviews with people of color and underserved communities. My team and I believe this will give us a better foundation to develop an educational module for the Los Angeles Unified School district. Although AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I believe coupling these community stories with proper health education will help enrich and save lives.
Another project I’m working on is called the California PFLAG Luminaries Project. PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ people. This will be the beginning of a national project to fully document the PFLAG history of love, support and wisdom for posterity. Click HERE to learn more.
Lastly, why do the humanities matter?
The humanities teach us to be more conscious of our personal humanity. We may seem connected in a world of mobile phones and social media. Yet true connectivity is facilitated through empathy and respect. Community Stories help make the unfamiliar more recognizable and strangers into acquaintances.
Images from top to bottom: Andy Sacher presenting at Young City At War at the West Hollywood Library on World AIDS Day (12/01/16); Interviewee Karen Ocamb with crew members Dee Dee Marcelli, Don Michael, and Michael Green; Interviewees Dr. Michael Gottlieb, MD speaking to activist Ivy Bottini while getting her hair/makeup by Dee Dee Marcelli