The offices of The Center looks like so many others in the district, with drop-ceilings and industrial carpeting. Through Oct. 15, however, The Center is enjoying a bit of flair, thanks to the trappings of GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month. Colorful tissue-paper cutouts ring the conference room, accenting thousands of pieces of memorabilia culled from decades of the GLBT Latino community's presence in the D.C. area and beyond.
Marking the occasion is something entirely new, and unique to D.C., says José Gutierrez, who points out that while Sept.15 to Oct. 15 may be nationally recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month, the GLBT bent is homegrown.
''I came up with the idea in March to recognize six leaders in the community,'' says Gutierrez. ''I spoke with [Center Director] Mike Sessa, and we formed a committee. There's been a team of about 15 people, the Latino GLBT History Project, meeting about twice a month.''
That group, the Latino GLBT History Project, along with The Center - Home for GLBT in D.C. and Latin@s en Accion, a local GLBT Latino advocacy group, kicked off the month with a reception at The Center, which included Darlene Nipper, head of the mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs, presenting the mayor's proclamation recognizing GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month.
''We had more than 150 people at the reception,'' Gutierrez says. ''We had people from government, from the community, from local and national organizations. There was even someone from the Smithsonian Institution. In other cities, people are trying to do the same thing, but this is the first in the country and the impact has been very great.''
Overflowing The Center's conference room, Gutierrez and his fellow volunteers have created a display that includes banners carried by Latino groups in Capital Pride and national gay-rights parades, safe-sex campaigns by and for the Latino community, pageant items, newsletters, photographs, articles, and nearly any other bit of memorabilia that can capture some piece of the past.
''Probably 95 percent is from my collection, including the first proposal from LLEGÓ to [the National Minority AIDS Council] in 1989,'' says Gutierrez, who has lived in Washington since 1993. LLEGÓ, a national, D.C.-based organization for GLBT Latinos, closed in 2004.
''I was devastated by LLEGÓ closing. It was very sad. With this exhibit, putting up these pieces of LLEGÓ, it was pretty emotional. Not only for me, but for a lot of people.''
On a cheerier note, Gutierrez points to Linda Carrero's donated tiara as another of his favorite items on display. Carrero, nee Omar Reyes, holds the title of Miss Gay America 1999. Reyes, along with five others, has been singled out for special recognition during this initial effort for contributions to the community. The other five are: Sophia Carrero, Letitia Gomez, Rick Mendoza, Yolanda Santiago and Frank Yurrita.
Gutierrez will be on hand on Oct. 5 and 10 to explain the significance of Carrero's tiara and the rest of the display. And he promises that 2007 will see a second GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month. ''Now we have the experience. I know the process. It will definitely be easier next year.''
For more information about the GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit, visit www.thedccenter.org.