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October 19, 2007
In 1994, educators across the country began working to counteract the lack of information about LGBT people in textbooks. The efforts of Missouri high school teacher Rodney Wilson led to the creation of LGBT History Month in October.
This marks the second year the Gay People’s Chronicle, along with other newspapers across the nation, honor LGBT History Month with a month-long series of articles by and about people, organizations and events that shaped the world and continue to strive for greater equality.
History is still being made
Archives preserve the past, and the present
During LGBT History Month, much is said about the people, events and organizations that made history, or are making it still. Less, however, is said about those dedicated few who keep that history intact for future generations.
A number of universities and private organizations across the nation have LGBT archives, or collections that feature LGBT issues heavily.
The One National Gay and Lesbian Archive at the University of Southern California falls into the first category, merging the archives of the One Incorporated Collection with that of archivist Jim Kepner, whose own exhaustive hoard took up all the available space in his apartment. The boxes both precluded and replaced furniture in his home.
Closer to Ohio is the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. First organized by anarchist Joseph Labadie in 1911, it focuses on social protest, radical politics and “alternative sexuality.”
Ohio, however, has a number of queer archives, the three most notable ones on the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati axis.
In Cleveland, the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland LGBT Center formed a partnership in 1991 to work together on an archive of queer life in northeast Ohio. In April, a reception featuring murals from the Cadillac Bar, which closed in 1970, was held to support the Northeast Ohio LGBT Archives.
As part of the archives, the center and the historical society have also worked on an oral history project, collecting stories of queer life in the Cleveland area.
The newest LGBT archive in the state is the Gay Ohio History Initiative, run under the auspices of the Ohio Historical Society. In January 2006, GOHI and Columbus’ Outlook Weekly joined with the society for the project, and the society now has an LGBT member on its development board to help with the project.
GOHI has been busy in the last year and a half, adopting by-laws, electing trustees, raising around $37,000 and soliciting materials. Plans are also underway for a traveling exhibit.
The oldest of the state’s major archives, however, is the Ohio Lesbian Archives in Cincinnati.
Originally organized by the staff of Dinah, a lesbian newsletter, in 1989 the collection moved into the Cincinnati Women’s Building, where it stayed for almost twenty years.
In the last year, however, with the sale of the building, they found a new home at Clifton United Methodist Church.
While Phebe Beiser and Victoria Ramstetter, who run the archives, cannot keep them open on a nine-to-five basis, they happily open them by appointment, either to serious research (as was the case with a University of Cincinnati student) or idle curiosity.
“We are happy to show off our pride and joy,” Beiser wrote.
However, as one of the few major archives without an institutional sponsor, there is concern about the future of the Ohio Lesbian Archives, and whether a new guard will step to the fore to take over in the future.
Their Fall 2007 newsletter included the “Top 10 Reasons It’s Important to Have the Ohio Lesbian Archives.” While the specifics may change from archive to archive, the overall reasoning remains the same. To see where the community is going, one must see where it has been.
The records of old LGBT organizations can prove an immeasurable resource to historians, students, and those trying to carry on the work. Without knowledge of past triumphs and defeats, it is difficult to discern what does, or does not, work in the fight for equality.
Even more, LGBT archives provide a safe place for keeping the culture, whether it is old movies, books, music or art.
The film Boys in the Band, for instance, is still not out on DVD, while William Friedkin’s Cruising was only released in the last few months.
Given how notable the LGBT community finds queer representations in film, it is not difficult to imagine how easily an old record or book could be lost from memory, if these films are falling by the wayside.
Mostly, it’s the material in people’s attics, drawers and, yes, closets that interests archivists.
Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Sue Doerfer pointed out at the April Northeast Ohio gathering that everyone there probably had saved things that would make valuable additions to the collection.
The society put out a call for flyers, publications, photos and other material, saying that we are living the history of the LGBT community today, and that it should be preserved for the future.
For more information about the Northeast Ohio Lesbian-Gay Archives, call the Western Reserve Historical Society at 216-7215722, or the Cleveland LGBT Center at 216-6515428.
The Gay Ohio History Initiative can be reached at 614-2688525 or online at www.gohi.org.
The Ohio Lesbian Archives are at 513-2567695 or email@example.com.