The Napa County Historical Society is interested in hosting the first-ever Napa County LGBTQ history exhibit during Gay Pride Month next year. But the collection of materials for the exhibit has proven difficult.
So far, the historical society has no items, said Nancy Levenberg, the executive director. Organizers are hoping members from the community will step forward with photos, letters, videos, political paraphernalia or any personal or community artifacts.
“I’m very hopeful that it will come together,” said Ian Stanley, program director of the Napa LGBTQ Connection. “The hardest part is getting the word out.”
Any person connected to Napa County who was involved in LGBTQ activism — whether here or outside the state — is invited to donate items, Stanley said. Items with a more direct connection to Napa County are also highly encouraged.
Napa resident Vince Hangman said he plans to contribute old newsletters from a group known as the Napa Valley Men’s Network. The group would meet one Sunday each month for a potluck. The newsletters included articles, local advertisements and puzzles, Hangman said.
Hangman, 51, grew up in Napa, but said he never heard of the Napa Valley Men’s Network until he was introduced to the group through a friend.
When Hangman was younger, being gay was treated like a mental illness or a disease, which may be why it’s so difficult to find items for the history exhibit, he said.
“People didn’t talk about it, so it’s hard to find a history,” Hangman said.
Stanley is hopeful that more people like Hangman will come forward. When Stanley came out as gay in his late 20s, he started a blog called, “The Valley’s Other Fruit,” which documented his search for the LGBTQ community in Napa Valley. Stanley’s efforts to create a more inclusive Napa County led to the formation of the “LGBTQ Connection” — a nonprofit program known as Napa’s LGBTQ hub.
Many other LGBTQ-related groups, both formal and informal, have existed in Napa County over the years, Stanley said.
A pool hall on Lincoln Avenue used to host drag shows, and a group of young, Latino men and transgender women once formed “Club Gay Napa,” which met regularly for fun and health education, Stanley said. A bar called The Depot was known as an LGBTQ hang-out, and the Napa Valley Academy Awards HIV/AIDS fundraiser was an event that raised nearly $1 million over 25 years.
“By including these stories and bringing to light a fuller version of our history, we can not only increase awareness, but build a more inclusive Napa County — past, present and future,” Stanley said.
For most of Napa County’s history, LGBTQ people have been “largely invisible,” he said.
“Through my life and work I have noticed that Napa County's biggest struggle with LGBTQ issues is mostly due to a lack of visibility and awareness,” Stanley said.