Jenny Meyer risked her career to be with Pat Larson. After they met in 1961, she left the United States Air Force, was arrested and court-martialed for going AWOL, then endured a brief sham of a marriage (not with Larson) and was eventually honorably discharged. The couple has been together for almost 60 years now.
Theirs is one of more than 20 collections that will be on display at The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach starting Saturday, featuring photos and ephemera from the West Hollywood-based June Mazer Lesbian Archives, the “largest archive on the west coast dedicated to preserving and promoting lesbian and feminist history and culture.”
“Out of the Box: Rare or Unseen Photos” will be on view through Jan. 20.
“This exhibit will give our community an opportunity to immerse themselves in decades of momentous LGBTQ history,” London Jones, community outreach and operations manager at The Center, said. “The ‘Out of the Box’ exhibit highlights lesbians who have pushed through both individual and collective adversity to actualize vibrant lives full of love, friendship, and resilience.”
For Meyer and Larson’s 50th anniversary, the couple held a party described by curator and friend Angela Brinskele as their “coming out.” The couple’s story is just one of many highlighted throughout the exhibit which show how love, whether romantic, friendly, for self or community-wide, perseveres despite political and social obstacles.
“We know our community members will be just as ecstatic as we are for this beautiful collection, and will see themselves reflected in a legacy of strength and hope,” Jones said.
Other highlights include photos from Marie Cartier and Kimberly Esslinger, who married in 2008 before same-sex marriage was made illegal with the passing of Prop 8 in California. The two spent their honeymoon protesting for marriage equality.
Also represented is the Southern California Women for Understanding, which had hundreds of members during its run from 1976 to 1999 and was described in 1982 as the “largest lesbian support group in the country” by Lesbian News.
Curated by Brinskele, the archives’ director of communications, alongside Julie Botnick, Breann Kramer and Suzette Zazueta, the exhibit shows a selection of items that span nearly a century.
“I hope that people will see how regular everyday feminist and lesbian women’s lives of the past were actually extraordinary,” said Brinskele, a photographer in her own right and a longtime member of the Long Beach women’s community. “[The Center] is only the second place it’s being exhibited, but Berlin is interested in having it next and then we would love it to go to London as well as the West Hollywood Library.”
Founded in 1981 in Oakland, the Mazer archives were moved to Southern California four years later and into the Werle Building where “Out of the Box” was first shown in the Fall. For the past 37 years, the Archive has been run by volunteers with support from private donors and the City of West Hollywood.
Two of the couples who gave collections to the Archives, Meyer and Larson, Cartier and Esslinger, are expected to attend the opening reception.
For more information on the June Mazer Lesbian Archives, visit the website here. “Out of the Box” opens Saturday with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. and can be viewed through Jan. 20 during the Center’s regular hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Sundays. The Center is located at 2017 E. 4th St.