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When it comes to LGBT rights, the South isn’t exactly where people look for overwhelming progress and change – but the new LGBT Institute in Atlanta wants to be a part of changing that.

Open since September, it resides in the nearly 2-year-old National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Right next to the aquarium and the Coca Cola museum, the center is in the heart of downtown.

“You can’t talk about civil and human rights without talking about LGBT rights,” said Ryan Roemerman, the executive director of the LGBT Institute. “The South unfortunately hasn't been able to achieve the same kind of momentum in regards to policy gains like the rest of the United States has… it’s the perfect time and perfect place to have these conversations.”

The civil rights center started in 2007, and finally came to fruition in 2014 as a brick-and-mortar location. Wanting to make sure that LGBT people were included in the history of Americans fighting for equal rights, the institute was founded.

Roemerman explains that there are so many national and international organizations working for LGBT rights, that they didn't want to replicate what they were doing, but rather, work alongside them. This includes assisting in research, educating the public, and more. Right now, the institute’s programming board is looking in depth at education and employment, criminal justice and safety, and public health and wellness. Also, they invite the public to participate in quarterly meetings to brainstorm and provide input for research.

“We wanted to build an institute here in the south that would allow us to make sure that the situations on the ground for LBGT people are understood from a southern aspect and focus,” he explained. “Also, making sure that folks understand the work that needs to be done nationally and internationally.”

“The center itself was never meant to be just a museum. It’s a platform for engagement.”

The center has permanent exhibits that teach visitors about the American civil rights movements of the 1960s and ties it to modern day struggles around the world. Walking through the first floor exhibits, one sees an explanation of civil rights, the story of the Freedom Riders, and racist laws that were once on the books.

Then, there’s the second floor, where guests are introduced to other civil rights movements, with people fighting for rights around the world based on their gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. An interactive 3D gallery allows visitors to hear the stories of real people.

When the LGBT Institute opened, the semi-permanent exhibit “Forward Together: A Look at Atlanta's LGBT History Since Stonewall” opened. The exhibit was a group effort by area museums, universities, and activists. It will be on display under the middle of January.

“It makes you realize how important it is to ensure that we continue to see that the rights we have achieved are maintained,” Roemerman said. “It makes you understand how interconnected we are as a world and how the rights of one person is denied, it really is the denial of rights for all of us.”

The LGBT Institute is located at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Ga. Visit