The Day We Leave Hiding
Entering into my second Primary Source Description (PSD), I knew that I wanted to keep the theme of activism alive. However, I was faced with the task of finding a block of quilt that would have an individual who illustrated the spirit of activism. If I have learned one thing through the NAMES Gallery Atlanta, it is that no matter where you look, the gallery is filled with life, spirit, and stories to be told. It was by chance that I stumbled upon Block 4476
I looked at the block of quilt and was immediately drawn to the panel of Robert Eichberg.
From the picture alone (click to see HD picture), the observer can see the crisp orange background that seemingly brings the panel to life. An Aztec pattern surrounds the panel on all sides and acts as a frame to the panel. I was drawn to the panel because of the panel’s color. The dark orange brings an energy to the panel that is almost calming, and the Aztec border brings a unique element to the panel. The color orange and the Aztec frame are bold colors and have an artistic glow that sets the panel of Eichberg apart from others.
If the color of the panel wasn’t intriguing enough, the quote that was straight in the center of the panel, stitched in a rich dark gold was. (click picture for HD resolution.)
It was the quote that was the centerpiece of the quilt that pulled me into the panel of Dr. Rob Eichberg. The quote to me was not just a meaningless quote, but a message of love. The phrase “And all we have to give and receive is love” struck my core and moved me to a pause. A quote with nothing artificial, but with the sole purpose of illustrating the importance of genuine and raw love. Little did I know, Dr. Rob Eichberg exemplified the idea of effortless love through his legacy.
Let me introduce to you, Dr. Rob Eichberg.
Dr. Rob Eichberg
According to the New York Times, “Dr. Eichberg was born in Brooklyn but lived most of his life in Los Angeles.” Eichberg lived a life full of serving others. While the panel did not give any clue to the birthplace of Eichberg, it had the following in the center.
Rob Eichberg, Ph.D
The reason I typed the phrase out in blue, is due to the fact that it was stitched into the quilt in a shade of dark teal.
Picking up the Big Clues One by One
As I began to look at the panel in more detail I picked up four huge clues.
Click on the picture for an HD Image.
Under the phrases
MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angles)
and National Coming Out Day
the word “CO-FOUNDER” was stitched beneath each phrase in a dark gray shade of stitching.
In addition, the word “AUTHOR” was found beneath a stitching that read
“COMING OUT – IN ACT OF LOVE- AN INSPIRING CALL TO ACTION FOR GAY MEN, LESBIANS, AND THOSE WHO CARE
ROB EICHBERG, PH.D.
I didn’t know much about each of these four stitchings and phrases included in the panel of Rob Eichberg at the time, but I knew that Eicherbg had been a contributor towards a cause. Questions such as “What is MECLA” and “What is The Experience” began to arise. I knew that Eichberg had the looks of an activist, or that he was at the very least involved in his community, but I didn’t know the grounds on what he stood for. However, that was then and this is now! The four clues I found on Rob Eichberg’s panel would end up illustrating and explaining his legacy in the most seamless way.
What is MECLA?
One of the first clues of Eichberg’s legacy was this
As I conducted my own research, I was able to find some temporal context of Eichberg’s legacy and begin to understand his legacy and roles of advocacy.
Nothing, in particular, popped up on my Google search when I typed in “Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles”. However, I stumbled upon the Online Archive of California.
According to the online archive, “The Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles records document the business functions, fundraising operations, and outreach programs of the political action committee during its existence from 1977-1991. The bulk of the collection comprises board meeting minutes, agendas, and financial reports, as well as correspondence to and from political figures lobbying for support of gay and lesbian rights.” (Online Archive of California).
The temporal context of Eichberg’s work was now given a platform through time and setting. The location of Los Angeles seemed to be emerging as one of the locations in which Eichberg’s work took place. Along with the location of Los Angeles, the time period of the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s seems to be where much of Eichberg’s legacy unfolded.
Along with a general illustration of what the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles was, I also found some more content through digging through the archives. In addition, I found that the MECLA was “Established in 1977 by members of the Orion gay men’s consciousness-raising group, the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA) was a political action committee supporting and contributing funds to political candidates in favor of human rights and, in particular, gay and lesbian rights. Although there were some administrative changes over the years, MECLA’s executive structure consisted of two co-chairs, up to 16 members of the board of directors, and numerous ex-officio directors forming a board of governors. The directors were broken down by pairs into committees that controlled the day-to-day and long-range functions of the business. As a show of their support of both gay and lesbian rights, the constituency of these groups was split evenly between males and females.” (Online Archive of California).
With a clear picture of what the MECLA stood for, I recognized a theme of LGBT empowerment. This theme of LGBT activism cannot be underestimated, for one can assume that in the late 1970’s, LGBT individuals did not have many who advocated on their behalf.
The maker of the panel wanted to honor Eichberg by putting a committee that he founded on his panel. Eichberg must have known that representation in our federal government is essential to the progress we can make as a whole. I would assert that it is small pockets of committees’, such as the MECLA, that would go on to ensure LGBT voices did not get left out of the narrative in Washington, DC.
With a knowledge of the causes, Eichberg stood for, the rest of the panel would go on to reinforce the theme of LGBT activism.
My next point of research was a patch on the quilt that read “The Experience” with a circle like stitching the framed the phrase on the panel.
I have no clue what “The Experience” was. However, with the theme of activism on my mind, I had a few guesses as to what it could be.
When I researched The Experience, I stumbled upon an organization that is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The homepage of The Experience
described a program that was geared toward improving relationships. In short, it seemed to be a safe space for any type of individual who needs relationship guidance. The page said that “In The Experience, you can discover and actually experience what it means to live more powerfully, to be fully self-expressive, and to connect deeply with yourself and others. It isn’t the same as reading a book or watching a movie; it’s about deeply exploring and expanding yourself in real time.”
The workshops hosted by The Experience seem to provide guidance on how to live a life that is true to yourself and a life that allows you to live in an effortless type of way. In addition, the website also illustrates the mission of The Experience as a whole saying that The Experience has “been around since 1978 and we’ve supported over 30,000 people to live more passionately and powerfully. We started with a vision to support the gay community to love and empower itself, so we could make a difference and live more successfully”
It was in the phrase “to love and empower” the individual self that drew me back to the initial quote on Rob’s quilt. It seemed that Dr. Eichberg was working on a multitude of projects during the late 19970’s, as that is when The Experience was founded. From supporting LGBT individuals through their elected representatives to co-founding a safe space in which LGBT individuals could seek comfort and guidance from a community, Dr. Eichberg was not only an activist but a friend to many. His work surrounds the theme of empowerment in the LGBT community.
It is worth taking note that individuals such as Dr. Eichberg felt compelled to found places such as The Experience due to the discriminatory attitudes towards gay individuals. Today, many gay individuals are accepted and not only that but are represented in culture. From movies such as Love, Simon to individuals such as Adam Rippon and Ellen DeGeneres, the LGBT community has a platform. However, without individuals such as Dr. Eichberg who stood up and had the courage to speak out for what they believed to be right during times where the LGBT community was not widely recognized, we may never have arrived at a point where LGBT individuals would come to be represented in culture.
National Coming Out Day Co-Founder
I think the title explains itself. However, I was truly astonished when I found out that Dr. Rob Eichberg was one of the widely recognized co-founders of National Coming Out Day.
For those who do not know, National Coming Out Day was founded in the late 1980’s. National Coming Out Day remains extremely relevant today, as each year many LGBTQ individuals express to the world who they truly are on this day. While this day is seen today as a modern statement of empowerment, National Coming Out has roots that started back in the 1980’s.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), “On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the second such demonstration in our nation’s capital and resulted in the founding of a number of LGBTQ organizations, including the National Latino/a Gay & Lesbian Organization (LLEGÓ) and AT&T’s LGBTQ employee group, LEAGUE.” (HRC) It is important to note that the struggle for LGBT acceptance is illustrated by the origins of Nation Coming Out Day. Before the day even existed, many LGBT individuals felt ignored, unwanted, and frankly invisible. It was the March on Washington that sparked a movement.
However, the movement sparked by D.C protest didn’t end there, it would go on to grow. According to the HRC, “The momentum continued four months after this extraordinary march as more than 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer activists from around the country gathered in Manassas, Va., about 25 miles outside Washington, D.C. Recognizing that the LGBTQ community often reacted defensively to anti-LGBTQ actions, they came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it. The originators of the idea were Rob Eichberg, a founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience, and Jean O’Leary, then head of National Gay Rights Advocates. From this idea, the National Coming Out Day was born.”
What started out as a movement of LGBT individuals who felt ignored, led to National Coming Out Day. Dr. Rob Eichberg was a co-founder of this day. Each year, on October 11th, LGBT individuals, if they feel compelled to do so, can reveal their sexuality or gender identity to the world. This is a day in which the world turns an eye towards acceptance.
This video, posted by the Human Rights Campaign is just one example of how Coming Out Day is used as a platform for empowerment in the LGBTQ community today. It is without question, that without the work of Dr. Eichberg and the countless others who marched on Washington, that we would not be where we are today in terms of the acceptance towards the LGBTQ community. While as a society, we still have miles to go, we have come far, and it is thanks to individuals like Dr. Eichberg.
Coming Out: An Act of Love
The last point of research was a novel written by Dr. Eichberg himself. In the novel Coming Out: An Act of Love-An Inspiring Call to Action for Gay Men and Lesbians-And Those Who Care, Eichberg’s grounds of LGBT empowerment are reaffirmed to the highest extent in his own personal publication.
His book is a direct call to action. He wants LGBT individuals and anyone who is willing to listen to his message to realize the importance of finding a cure to AIDS. Along with a message of awareness, he also acknowledges that in order for anyone to take on the task of tackling a cure to AIDS, the LGBT community must comfortable in their own skin, but also be accepted by others. He asserts that acceptence is a collaborative movement, and is not reserved just for LGBT individuals or straight individuals, but a larger movement among all of us in society.
Eichberg knows that the LGBT community, during the late 1900’s were not embraced by larger society. Many government officials would not allow funding towards finding a cure to AIDS, which is one of the reasons why the NAMES Project was started in the first place. Just like Eichberg, the NAMES Gallery was started by individuals who had a message and used art as a platform for their message.
From Jon Landstrom
In conclusion, Dr. Rob Eichberg was an activist who paved the way for progress in the LGBT community. From founding his own empowerment program to his tireless efforts to getting LGBT officials elected, his role in co-founding National Coming Out Day, and his own personal novel; Rob was a man who was hopeful in a better tomorrow. He never let AIDS slow him down and he never gave up in the face of uncertainty. Dr. Rob Eichberg was a visionary, an activist, and author, but also a partner to Jon Landstrom.
I will not close my PSD II by attempting to use my words to illustrate the legacy of Dr. Rob Eichberg. Instead, I will let a letter, provided by the NAMES Gallery Atlanta, from Dr. Eichberg’s partner Jon Landstrom do all of the talking.
“He was an incredible and unforgettable human being.” Jon Landstrom
The panel of Rob Eichberg is the story of an individual who paved the way for a better tomorrow. Rob Eichberg was more than just an activist, but an almost tangible representation of safety and care. He spoke for the LGBT individual who had no voice. He fought for the individual who was scared to confront their sexuality. Most importantly, he told us to come out of hiding. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. Embracing who you are is one of life’s most precious virtues, and Dr. Eichberg knew that. Rob led us to the future, and today, we no longer hide.
Eichberg, Rob, et al. “Coming Out.” By Rob Eichberg, www.goodreads.com/book/show/304779.Coming_Out.
Kindelan, Katie. “5 Historic Washington, DC, Marches to Know About.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 20 Jan. 2017, abcnews.go.com/Politics/historic-washington-dc-marches/story?id=44884785.
“The History of Coming Out.” Human Rights Campaign, www.hrc.org/resources/the-history-of-coming-out.
Experience Your Power – Home, www.experienceyourpower.com/main/.
“Finding Aid to the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA) Records, 1977-1991 Coll2012.160.” Online Archive of California, www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8668dsr/.