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Pride month events continue with a look at the past

Watch above: Willet Hancock curated the Alachua’s Queer History Gallery at the Matheson History Museum, which has been extended until Nov. 22, 2023. (Lauren Whiddon/WUFT News)

October is Gainesville Pride Month with last weekend’s “Can’t Drag Us Down” Festival as the main event. But the celebration continued at the Matheson History Museum, where an exhibit titled “Alachua’s Queer History Gallery” is exploring Gainesville’s LGBTQ+ history.

“We originally were just going to have it up for Pride Month,” said Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney, executive director of the Matheson. “We’ve had a lot of people coming in specifically to see it, so we decided to extend it.”

The exhibit is part of a large collection gifted to the Matheson by the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, which also planned the festival last weekend. It will now be up until Nov. 22.

“We decided the best way to ensure preservation and the opportunity for public display of our important historical items, such as our AIDS quilts, would be to donate them to the Matheson Museum,” said Tamára Perry-Lunardo, president of the Pride Center.

Gainesville Pride’s first big historical event dates back to 1992 when a "Lesbian and Gay Pride Week picnic" was organized. Members of the Ku Klux Klan protested, and Gainesville legend Tom Petty came with his wife to support the community.

Willett Hancock, visitor engagement assistant at the Matheson, helped to put the exhibit together. He said his favorite piece is a picture dominated by two women kissing right in front of the viewer. In the distant right corner, KKK members stand watching.

“It’s weird to say that’s my favorite image,” Hancock said. “I think it’s really interesting to show how far our society’s come.”

Hancock said the exhibit is an opportunity to analyze LGBTQ+ history on a detailed level.

“You can just paint things that happened across the country with a broad stroke, but when you break it down at the local level, I feel it’s so much more meaningful,” Hancock said.

Among other items in the exhibit are AIDS quilts, knitted in memory of those lost during the AIDS epidemic.

Executive Director Hof-Mahoney’s favorite piece is a paper with requests from a hotline called a gay switchboard. These hotlines were active for anonymous members of the community to reach out and try to meet others.

“People were asking about gay bars, and where they could go in the community because in the 1980s, you couldn’t go on Facebook,” Hof-Mahoney said.

Hof-Mahoney said she’s fascinated by the history they can uncover from memorabilia like this, especially when they haven’t even gone through all the switchboard files.

There were also published items like the Gay Guide to Gainesville, which provided information about which areas were safe to go to.

Marlee Pricher, a third-year public relations major, visited the exhibit last week. The handmade quilts stood out to her the most because of their personal nature.

“I saw one and I could tell it was made with love,” Pricher said. “It was an ‘I want to love who I want to love’ kind of thing, and I think that’s all Queer people really want to do.”

This exhibit comes at a time of increasing legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Pricher said the exhibit shows the great strides the community has made and will continue to make.

“Even though there’s a lot of attacks and legislation, I still believe we have more support due to the people who worked before us,” she said. “People have fought and the exhibit shows the activism and strength of the community.”

Pricher, who grew up in the area, considers Gainesville to be a unique dot on the North Central Florida map when it comes to gay culture. While it’s true that Gainesville has been the most vocal about expressing pride, the Matheson has also collected some art from other nearby communities.

Ocala is commemorated in the exhibit, with its Pride festival coming up Nov. 11. One Ocala piece of art is a poster from a “Gay Day” get-together in 1982. Held at the start of the AIDS epidemic, this is a snapshot of the darkest period in LGBTQ+ history.

“I think it’s really interesting that an event like this was able to be held in Ocala back then,” Hancock said. “It shows that LGBTQ+ communities exist everywhere you go.”

Jorge Torres, an English major, said the exhibit shows exactly why those employing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric are wrong.

“This shows gay people have always been part of Florida,” Torres said. “There’s no escaping gay people, and the more you repress it the bigger the comeback.”

He said although he hates to say it, he’s accustomed to hate. Sometimes when he returns from a night out, someone drives by and yells the F-slur.

“I kind of revel in it and take it as a compliment,” Torres said. “I’m like, OK, yeah, I’m F—ing gay.”

The Matheson has had exhibits about the LGBTQ+ community in the past. A few years ago they had one on the Johns Committee, a Florida legislative investigation committee that fired and expelled gay professors and students at the university.

Hof-Mahoney said the museum will continue to portray different voices.

“Our goal is to be a museum of all of our community,” she said. “Our tagline is 'this is your museum,' and we want to make sure everybody who comes to the Matheson can see themselves either in an exhibit or in our programs.”

Levi is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing