Connect with us

Local

LGBTQ ally Hoffberger stepping down at American Visionary Art Museum

Iconic Baltimore attraction looking for a successor

Published

on

The Divine statue is a tribute to the gay actor and Baltimore native that was championed by outgoing AVAM founder and director Rebecca Hoffberger.

A longtime ally of the LGBTQ community is leaving her job in the arts world.

After 26 years as founder, director and primary curator of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger disclosed this week that she will retire in March of 2022.

In 1992, Congress designated the museum as a “national repository and educational center for visionary art,” which is defined as works “produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training” which arise from “an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”

Rather than focusing on works of visionary art as objects unto themselves, Hoffberger curates exhibits that combine art, science, philosophy, and humor, always with an underlying focus on social justice and betterment. AVAM’s exhibits have explored themes ranging from hunger, public health and climate change to sleep and what makes us smile.

Throughout her tenure, Hoffberger has supported LGBTQ artists by featuring their work and stories in her themed exhibits and adding their work to the museum’s permanent collection. While other museums have only recently begun to call attention to their efforts to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access, AVAM has done it all along.

One of AVAM’s best known and most photographed pieces by an LGBTQ artist is British sculptor Andrew Logan’s 10-foot-tall statue of Divine, a tribute to the gay actor and Baltimore native who starred in drag in “Pink Flamingos,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Hairspray” and other movies by filmmaker John Waters.

Logan, whose paintings and sculpture fill the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture between England and Wales, has two other works at AVAM: Icarus, a figure suspended above the main staircase, and the Cosmic Galaxy Egg, an eight-foot sculpture on a plaza outside the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center.

Other LGBTQ artists highlighted at AVAM include painter James Snodgrass; Judy Tallwing McCarthy, an Apache leatherwoman and multi-media artist who won the first International Ms. Leather contest in 1987; Andrey Bartenev, a Russian performer, sculptor and experimentalist who won the Alternate Miss World pansexual beauty pageant in 2018 as Miss UFO; and psychic and “consciousness researcher” Ingo Douglas Swann, co-founder of the Stargate Project that was launched to investigate psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.

Local visionary talents include woodworker Bob Little; Bob Adams, a multi-media artist and one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders, whose photographs, scrapbooks, shrines and other assemblages have been featured in three AVAM exhibits, and Bob Benson, a popular classical music radio host who became a prolific visual artist later in life, responsible for the fart machine in the museum’s Flatulence exhibit; the blinged-out Universal Tree of Life visible on Key Highway (made with Rick Ames and David Hess); the ocean beneath Icarus and the sky above him, and many other creations.

The museum has supported the LGBTQ community in other ways as well. It was one of the first places in Maryland to offer a welcoming setting for same-sex weddings, even before they were legal in the state. Couples would get married in the District of Columbia, where it was legal, and then come to AVAM’s Meditation Chapel to have a second wedding and reception.

One of Hoffberger’s year-long exhibits was called “Race, Class and Gender: 3 Things that Contribute “0” to CHARACTER (Because being a Schmuck is an equal opportunity for everyone!), also known as The Character Show. As part of that 2005-2006 presentation, she wrote an essay entitled “gender,” in which she explored the ways people in different countries think about transgender citizens; “intersex” children born with both male and female reproductive organs; gender “verification” for athletes; gender fluidity, the “gender rights” movement and related subjects.

“Every human being is precious,” she argued at the end. “We are all, all of us, part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor.”

The museum’s shop, Sideshow, has a gay owner whom she recruited from Chicago, Ted “Uncle Fun” Frankel, and is filled with gay-friendly books and gifts that reflect his sensibility. TripSavvy.com, a website last month named AVAM the LGBTQ+ Best Hidden Gem in Maryland. Readers of The Baltimore Sun just chose it as Baltimore’s Best Museum and Best Tourist Attraction.

In announcing her departure, Hoffberger said she loves her time at the museum but wants to pursue other interests, including writing a play about the close friendship between inventor Nikola Tesla and writer Mark Twain.

“I consider myself the luckiest woman I know,” she said. “It has been such a fantastic privilege to imagine, birth and to help our American Visionary Art Museum flourish over these past decades, alongside the most wonderful hardworking staff imaginable. Every beautiful thought, opportunity to communally inspire some greater good, we have joyfully undertaken.”

Her final curated exhibit as director will be “Healing & The Art of Compassion (And The Lack Thereof!),” scheduled for Oct. 9, 2021 to Sept. 4, 2022. A farewell gala and fundraiser has been set for Nov. 20. The museum’s board has appointed m/Oppenheim Executive Search to help find her replacement.

Waters, a big fan of the museum, is one of many who think Oppenheim doesn’t have an easy assignment.

“Rebecca Hoffberger’s name is almost synonymous with the word ‘irreplaceable,” the writer and filmmaker said in an email message.

“She has given the world the perfect museum to celebrate Baltimore’s reputation as a welcoming home to eccentric artistic outsiders and crackpot personalities,” he said. “The statue of Divine watches over the international visiting guests with benevolence and the same understanding Rebecca has for all artists who don’t fit in. Rebecca is passionate, obsessive in her drive, and nobody else could have made this place become such a major tourist destination. And now to find a successor? Who knows? We need another Glinda, the Good Witch of the Visionary. She’s out there somewhere.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Local

Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat

First known trans elected official in city

Published

on

ANC Rainbow Caucus, Monika Nemeth, gay news, Washington Blade
Monika Nemeth, the first known trans person to win election to public office in D.C., is running for Council.

Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.

Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.

Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.

“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”

When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.

Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.

Continue Reading

Local

UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student

Published

on

Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

Continue Reading

Local

LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

Published

on

Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular