Louisville Magazine

OCT 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 10.18 111 e installation addresses stereotypes: lesbians watching Ellen, surrounded by cats; gay men as pieces of fruit. Von Roenn filled a drawer with vials of testosterone from a friend who was transitioning. Newspaper headlines from the '80s shout about the AIDS epidemic. "We've lost a whole generation of gay men, artists, activists," she says. Von Roenn remembers how Closet was all color at first. It was too overwhelming. "When it turned all white, all of a sudden it was a memorial. All of a sudden, it was a vigil. All of a sudden, it was romantic, beautiful. Something people could stare at and not feel threatened by," she says. "It had this innocence." In another drawer, for "Don't ask, don't tell," a troop of white army soldiers circles around a speaker, rifles drawn. Speakers built into the shelves play interviews that von Roenn has collected over the past sev- en years. "Nine years ago, I went to a talk where an LGBTQ panel told stories from the past," she says. "It struck me then how much I did not know about my LGBTQ history. It was my history, and it was disappearing. So I started recording stories of people in my community." ere's the story about someone going through elec- troshock therapy at 14 years old, because they were gay. e coming-out stories. e HIV scares. e interviews play all at once. A mumble, confusion, dissonance. In Laramie, von Roenn woke with angels. "Matt's Angels" — a mural in the alley directly beside her broken-down van. It depicts three people wearing wings made of PVC pipes and sheets, like those that folks used to block protestors from Westboro Baptist Church at Shepard's funeral. Von Roenn took this as a sign to make the most of her time while her van was in the shop. She made some calls to the local NPR station. She cried passing a fencepost that resembled the one Shepard bled against. (e actual site, which for a while became a memorial, has been dismantled.) Before long, she was scheduled to show the installation as part of the documentary screening of Laramie Inside Out, which ex- plores the aftermath of Shepard's murder. e location? Right across from the bar where Shepard was last seen. It's never exactly fun. It's never exactly easy. At Louisville's Pride, von Roenn got super-emotional. How do you hold space for people that are in pain and not take it on? How to heal and be healed? She says it's like: "'Hey, you know that deep, dark thing you have buried? Let's look at that and get it out of you.' at's intense." At Burning Man, when people would cry, she'd tell them, "I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're alive." In this whirlwind of Wyoming, she watched as people wrote on the white. at's part of the installation too: "Share Your Fear and Leave it Here." Strangers' have scribbled everywhere: "Not being loved for who I am 100%," "Not being good enough." Von Roenn says, "When I was interviewing people, I would see the fear in people's bodies, physically. I want the fear to physically move through your hands, get it out of you. Have it be a communal effort. Let it go." In Lara- mie, the memorial met an angel. One of "Matt's Angels." She introduced herself to von Roenn, said, "I was the left wing." Von Roenn isn't sure what's next for Opening the Closet. Maybe she'll set up the installation for U of L's Pride Week. Or put it in a hotel, or an airport, some- where with a larger non-LGBTQ audi- ence. "I want to put it on wheels," she says. "I want to Vanna White it around Louisville. I want people to bust out of their own little closets, little worlds."

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