Library Sets Program Of Gay, Lesbian Readings

Event Marks Beginning of Gay-rights Movement
June 12, 2003

TAMPA - Listening to Minnie Carey's account of living as a black child in the cotton country of Tunica, Miss., it's little wonder she is impatient about nonequality. With the rural shacks and outhouses of Mississippi in her past, Carey is focused on showing the diversity in the gay community.

She is hopeful "Loving in Fear" will be the first of many readings featuring gay and lesbian literature at the John F. Germany Library, 900 N. Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa. The event is 2 p.m. June 21.

"We had readings all the time in Chicago," Carey said of the city where her family relocated during the "great black migration" when she was 9 years old. "When I moved to Tampa a few years ago, I couldn't believe this opportunity to share writings wasn't provided," she said, sitting in a main library conference room recently with Steven Reigns, organizer of "Loving in Fear."

Reigns emphasized the downtown library is "housing" the event, which will include literary references to bisexuals and transgendered. But he said the library declined to "host" the readings, which honor Gay & Lesbian History Month. The event also marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, considered the beginning of the gay rights movement.

"The library has never sponsored an event such as this," Reigns said. "Yet they have honored poets and blacks and every other group."

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System spokeswoman Patrice Koerper said "Loving in Fear" couldn't be part of the library's official programming because schedules are set two years in advance by the Friends of the Library, a fundraising group.

"I know Steven wanted us to raise the level of their programming to the same level as our black history programs but that just wasn't possible," she said. Koerper said the library is displaying fliers for the event plus has set up a selection of modern reads on the gay and lesbian movement. "We've been very supportive," she said. "We usually don't go to these lengths for regular meeting-room use because we get so many requests."

Reigns, who teaches at writing workshops for gay youths in Florida, said his purpose is to educate the public about the gay and lesbian experience. A graduate of the University of South Florida, the 27-year-old published a book of poems and fiction titled, "Your Dead Body is My Doormat." Carey has written "Woman to Woman" about influential females she has met and has recorded "Unfamiliar."

Carey said she never experienced discrimination about her sexuality. "This is what I encounter," she said, pointing to the skin color on her arm. Reigns reminds that Tampa was the scene of an attack on three gay men last summer in the Channelside parking garage following PrideFest, a gay rights event.

"Tampa needs to be a lot more tolerant of various lifestyles," Reigns said. He lists the few gay-orientated businesses, which include several bars, a coffee shop and bookstore, plus a community center housing Equality Florida at 3708 W. Swann Ave.

"We have a well-organized and well-meaning gay community in Tampa. We just need more respect from the general public," he said. Reigns and Carey agree it's almost impossible to be aware of gay struggles and not be political. That's why they use their writings to document what their lives are like.

"I'm just happy to be a part of this first-ever reading," Carey said. Reigns said he would like "Loving in Fear," which will address such issues as same-sex couples holding hands in public or adorning office desks with loved ones photos, to become a more frequent occurrence.

Another featured reader is Les Wright, associate professor of Humanities at Mount Ida College in Massachusetts. Wright founded the Bear History Project in 1994, which deals with society's perception of what men should be like. Tomes & Treasures, 408 S. Howard Ave., will sell books at "Loving in Fear" with a portion of the proceeds donated to Equality Florida, a statewide education and advocacy organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination.

photo caption: Steven Reigns, Prof Les Wright and Minnie Carey The three authors from left to right: Steven Reigns, Prof. Les Wright and Minnie Carey.