Light a Fire 2018: Exceptional Volunteer

Portlander George Nicola Documents Untold Stories of the LGBTQ Movement

The GLAPN volunteer captures how change happens.

By Fiona McCann October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Loris Lora

When George Nicola was a kid, his father took him to see the Lincoln Memorial. He remembers being impressed. Not long after, he visited his uncle’s home in Ohio and learned it had been a safehouse in the Underground Railroad, the occupants breaking the law to take in fleeing slaves. There was no monument for them, however. “History often talks about the superstars, but doesn’t talk about many people who did amazing things that we don’t know about-—because nobody stopped to write it down,” says Nicola. “My purpose is to write it down.”

That’s what he’s been doing for seven years as a volunteer with GLAPN, formed in 1994 as the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest. A gay rights activist since the early ’70s, Nicola set about documenting the movement he’d been a part of. “We started out as pariahs,” he recalls. “We were considered mentally ill by the health establishment, immoral by the religious establishment, and illegal by the law, and in a period of several decades things changed. I thought it was important that people see how social change comes about.”

He’s written about the birth of the LGBTQ movement in Oregon, and our state’s pre- and post-Stonewall history, among other things. And he’s nominated countless members of the queer community for recognition (including several Light a Fire honors over the years). “He’s made it his life’s work in retirement to be doing this,” says GLAPN President Robin Will. “He’s an incredible resource because of what he’s done, who he knows, and how hard he works.”

Do you know other nonprofits, organizations, or volunteers doing incredible work? Nominate them for our 2019 Light a Fire Awards—submissions are open now!

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