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“It’s not that accepted”: SWFL woman creates LGBTQ+ safe space in Fort Myers

Visuality offers programs in SWFL for youth, adults and seniors that are LGBTQ+
Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 26, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. — In a small strip mall not far from Downtown Fort Myers, you’ll find a place calledVisuality. The organization is committed to providing a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in SWFL. From the outside, as you walk up, you’ll see the windows are draped with the brightly colored pride flags. Inside, the walls are adorned with the same bright colors, along with words of positivity and acceptance.

Arlene Goldberg, the driving force behind Visuality, says she and others realized the need for more places like this in Southwest Florida, so they worked together to make it a reality. The location has moved several times but the mission is always the same.. support and services for all ages of the LGBTQ+ community.

Goldberg knows personally what it’s like to struggle for acceptance. "It's all about love, it's about who you love," she shared when we sat down one morning to talk about her life. For years, she and her late wife, Carol, navigated a world where their love had to remain hidden. "You're lying to friends, you're lying to parents, you're lying to everybody because you don't want anybody to find out," Goldberg recalled.

The couple met as teenagers in the Bronx and started off as friends. That relationship blossomed into love when they were about 20. Arlene says she and Carol were life partners, though very few people knew of their relationship. The couple, who moved to Florida in the 1980’s, went to New York in 2011 to get married where same sex marriage was legal. That wasn’t the case in Florida where they lived.

Arlene and Carol got to spend 3 of their 47 years together as a married couple. Carol lost her fight with a disease called Scleroderma in 2014. It’s a painful auto-immune disease that essentially hardens the organs, Arlene explained to me. A tragic loss that was followed by another gut punch when Arlene received Carol’s death certificate. It listed Carol as single despite the fact that they were legally married in New York.

Arlene read about a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Florida. It was representing 8 couples that wanted their marriage to be recognized in Florida. "I called them up, and they went back and they added me on for the lawsuit," she remembered. Her persistence paid off when, 10 months after Carol's death, Florida law changed to recognized same-sex marriage and the state re-issued Carol’s death certificate acknowledging the couple’s union. It was a big moment for LGBTQ+ rights in the state and for Arlene who suddenly found herself very publicly out. "I got thrown out, right out of the closet," she remembered and laughed.

Arlene wants to spread the word about acceptance and love and hopes more people learn about Visuality. The center hosts various activities, from group sessions to educational forums and it even has Carol's Corner—a cozy spot named in honor of her late wife, where visitors can unwind with a book.

Despite the progress that’s been made, Goldberg says they have so far to go. "LGBTQ people, people are still discriminated against.” She’s hoping this pride month that people, who don’t understand the LGBTQ+ community will at least learn to accept them.

"I am who I am. I love who I love, and you love who you love. So why do you care who I love?" She asks.

If you want to learn more about Arlene and Carol’s story, you can read all about her life in her book,“Simple Human Dignity : My Life, My Wife, Our Story”.

To learn more about Visuality and how you can take part volunteering or use it as a safe space, Click here.