Last summer, Alexis Rodriguez ’18 completed an internship with the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida. As a graduate student in UCF’s history master’s program, he saw it as an opportunity to support his studies while volunteering with an organization focused on collecting, observing and exhibiting the history of Central Florida’s LGBTQ community. However, over the course of his time with the museum, it evolved into much more than an internship.
“What began as a simple project in gathering information for a photograph collection of female impersonators transformed into something more,” says Rodriguez. “Perhaps a lifelong project due to the connections and friendships built from the internship.”
Now, Rodriguez serves as the museum’s vice president, a role that enables him to continue collecting and sharing oral histories collected from Central Florida’s vibrant LGBTQ community. His recent projects include oral histories of Doug Baaser (Taffy Pinkerbox), Willie King Jr. (Von Gretchen) and Willie Tillmon (Geraldine Jones), all prominent figures within Orlando’s drag scene and community.
Rodriguez oversees the entire process of collecting oral histories, from reaching out to members of the community on social media, conducting interviews, editing the video and audio footage, and sharing the final result on the museum’s YouTube channel and social media.
As much as Rodriguez’s work has benefitted Central Florida’s LGBTQ community by helping to preserve its history, it has also benefitted the history alum, who himself is a member of the community.
“This is my history. I grew up here, and it’s sad that I didn’t know anything about this until grad school,” he says. “So, I think the project really connected me with the community in so many ways that I can’t explain.”
In addition to preserving oral histories, Rodriguez recently curated a virtual exhibit on the life of Paul Wegman (Miss P). Wegman, the former MC of Parliament House, is an icon in Central Florida’s drag and theatrical community. The exhibit is divided into two portions — one exploring the life of Wegman as a gay man and actor, and the other examining the lasting influence of Miss P the character.
“I realized that this idea of Miss P was only one side of Paul Wegman,” says Rodriguez. “It was interesting, because people associate him as a drag queen, but he himself said ‘No, I’m an actor.’ It made me realize how much society limits the actual person.”
Outside of his work with the museum, Rodriguez is the graduate research assistant for Professor of History Luis Martínez-Fernández, assisting him in gathering information for his weekly nationally syndicated column. Rodriguez’s research interests focus on medieval queer subcultures within the Iberian and Maghreb region, theoretical discourses on sexualities, cross-dressing and the role of memory within the development of modern-day LGBTQ movements and communities. He also pursued a minor in education while completing his bachelor’s at UCF.