COMMUNITY GEM: Dayton man promotes equality, preserves the history of LGBTQ people

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

In 2019, members of the LGBTQ community across the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was around that time that Randy Phillips of Dayton realized many people, particularly young people, had never even heard of them.

The Stonewall Riots, catalyzed by a police raid on Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City, sparked the modern movement towards LGBTQ rights.

“Our history isn’t taught in schools,” Phillips said.

Phillips, a Dayton resident, serves as Executive Director of the Dayton LGBT Center, which promotes education, advocacy, and engagement with and for the LGBTQ community. One of the center’s biggest projects is establishing and maintaining an archival library of works, studies, and fiction from LGBTQ people, both from the Dayton area and around the nation.

“For a number of years during and after World War II, a lot of it got lost and destroyed,” Phillips said. “It’s a matter of recouping those memories, interviewing people, even capturing it on film, to know what it’s like to live and breathe in the greater Dayton area. We capture those histories and preserve them for years to come.”

Phillips was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem by Leslie Loper, a 40-year volunteer with AIDS Foundation Dayton.

“Randy lives his life as an example to other people,” Loper said in her nomination. “He provides help and services to many people in the Dayton area. He makes sure that people are safe, live without discrimination, and with equality and respect. Some people may fear how they are perceived, that they may lose family or jobs, and Randy works very hard so they can exist in their community.”

The Dayton LGBT Center works to connect LGBTQ people of all ages with resources and fellowship, as well as working to address challenges that face LGBTQ people today. These include threats to housing, discrimination, food insecurity, mental health issues, but the center also provides fellowship for people of all walks of life, aiming to bring people together through events and education.

The center works with gay-straight alliances and diversity clubs in schools to help students live their authentic lives. However, a growing problem is discrimination against elderly people, as gay senior citizens begin to enter retirement homes and institutions where they may face discrimination.

“Education is our best tool to combat any of this,” Phillips said. “Most of the time when people come to fear things, such as things in transgender community, it’s usually because they don’t know anyone who is transgender. We want to introduce them, so they understand there is nothing to be afraid of, and the LGBTQ community is just as normal as everyone else.”

While outright discrimination has lessened over time, Phillips said, the election of Donald Trump catalyzed a resurgence of “emboldened hatred” against LGBT people. Additionally, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v Wade, many people in the gay community feared that their marriages and livelihoods would be next.

“Our biggest response has been this is the time, rather than living in fear, to strengthen your voice at the ballot box, because quite honestly that is going to be your biggest champion. We will never tell you who to vote for, but we will tell you to get out and vote.”

Phillips has also volunteered at Dayton Public Access TV, and at other local organizations to help people tell their own stories.

“50 years from now I want people to know who these people are, and what they have done to advance LGBTQ acceptance, particularly in the greater Dayton area,” Phillips said.

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