This month two separate efforts to record LGBT people’s oral histories came across my desk.
StoryCorps, a much-loved National Public Radio series that has been broadcasting “regular people” interviews for years and which was founded by Dave Isay, son of the gay psychiatrist Dr. Richard Isay, has announced OutLoud, a new initiative to record LGBTQ stories.
“We’ll make a comprehensive effort to find people who were alive in the pre-Stonewall era — in the ’50s and ’60s in small towns all across the country, creating a record of what life was like for them. I think it is going to be very difficult to hear. It’s difficult now; then, it was probably difficult beyond our imagination. You know, it was a spiritual holocaust,” Dave Isay explained to Slate (http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/06/30/storycorps_outloud_a_new_initiative_to_record_lgbtq_elders.html)
If you are interested in participating, go to http://storycorps.org/
The second new LGBTQ Oral History “Digital Collaboratory” was funded in April 2014 and will begin this summer. Billed as “the largest LGBTQ oral history project in North American history,” it will collect over 200 life stories “with new methodologies in digital history, collaborative research, and archival practice.” Funded by the Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada, those involved include Prof. Karen Stanworth of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives; Prof. Aaron Devore of the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria; Prof. Elise Chenier of the Archive of Lesbian Oral Testimony; Prof. K.J. Rawson of the Digital Transgender Archives; and Dr. Sarah Davidmann of the University of the Arts London’s Photography and Archive Research Center. To find out more about this project, go to http://www.elspethbrown.org/page/lgbtq-oral-history-digital-collaboratory
David Mixner, long-time gay and anti-war activist and author, made a call for the collection of LGBT history from those who lived it before they die, in a Towleroad post that also briefly reviews the Broadway play, “Mothers and Sons.”
“Members of the early years of our struggle for liberation were reluctant to keep records, papers and videos for fear of discovery. After many of our best and brightest died of HIV/AIDS, many of their families destroyed anything of their belongings that would even suggest they were gay. Many traditional universities, museums and libraries initially refused to accept such papers because of their ‘controversial content.'”
This, he contends, is a loss not just to the LGBT community, but to the whole world. “The story of how the LGBT community embraced a path filled with love and outreach instead of responding in kind to the hatred and violence directed toward us should never be forgotten. Our history, if we decide to save it, without question will be an inspiration to future generations no matter what their sexual orientation. It is a history filled with courage, dignity, nobility and amazing victories. What a tragedy if people don’t act quickly and these amazing stories disappear into the night.”
In comments on the article, a number of LGBT historical archives and resources were mentioned, including:
– Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall Library and Archives (http://www.stonewallnationalmuseum.org/)
— San Francisco gay history (http://www.thecastro.net/)
— GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco (http://www.glbthistory.org )
— Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives (http://www.clga.ca )
The Mixner article is at http://www.towleroad.com/2014/03/the-lgbt-community-is-losing-it-1.html
One of the joys of growing old is that your memories increasingly consist of what others label “history.”
That is one of the reasons older LGBT people and those who serve them may be very interested in a new website (www.OurFamilyAlbum.org) that features early photographs of people who may or may not have been LGBT.
The new website was put together by Stu Maddux, the creator of the much-lauded documentary on LGBT aging, Gen Silent. His in-progress work, “Reel in the Closet,” features home videos from LGBT people. The complementary website features more than 100 personal photos spanning more than 120 years and is designed to provoke conversation about identity and cultural context. Users are encouraged to post comments and questions, which are often answered by Stu Maddux.
The site also features a store that offers a 2014 desk calendar, cards, posters, wall clocks, and mugs. You can ask to be notified when new photographs are added to the site.
The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center has posted a new YouTube video with professionally-edited snippets (and background music) from 10 older lesbians and gay men, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDOdv792rBA
Those interviewed include a lesbian couple who has been together 63 years and at least four other people in their 80s. The topics they cover include coming out to parents and family members, feeling like “I’m the only one,” Stonewall, caretaking for a dying ex-partner, and how hard it is to come out when you’ve lived “two lives” all your life, complete with different names for each. It’s well worth a watch.
The Sexual Minority Archives, “a national collection of LGBT literature, history, and art,” has announced two new oral history projects aimed at LGBT individuals who live in Western Massachusetts.
The year-long projects focus on transgender people of any age for Trans Stories: Breaking the Silence and LGBT people age 55+ for LGBT Elders Speak Out. “The lives of our LGBT people, our relationships and families, and our work with groups and organizations often go undocumented and unstudied,” said Bet Power, Executive Director of the Sexual Minorities Educational Foundation, Inc. and Director/Curator of the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA). “Whether an LGBT person has been part of a major event or community organization or has stories to tell about everyday life, the mission of the SMA is to record, preserve, and make accessible the historical narratives of our lives. We can help shape a queer people’s history of information that is too often omitted from mainstream libraries and academic archives.”
Oral history interviews will be conducted at the Sexual Minorities Archives in Northampton or in participants’ homes. Participants may specify the level of privacy or accessibility they wish for their interview as it is added to the media collection at the SMA, and participants will receive both a videotape and transcript of their interview.
For more information, email Brittni Hayes regarding Trans Stories: Breaking the Silence or Samuel Belmonte regarding LGBT Elders Speak Out at sexualminorities [dot] archives [at] yahoo [dot] com, or call Bet Power at 413-584-7616.
In one of the most interesting such human-interest stories I’ve seen, OutFront Colorado this month published a front-cover article profiling four Colorado elders: Pat Barrington, 77; Dennis Dougherty, 69; Bobby Gates, 71; and Corky Blankenship, 67. Continue reading
It’s true: a picture is worth a thousand words. You’ll undoubtedly agree if you web surf over to “Hidden in the Open: A Photographic Essay of Afro American Male Couples from the Distant Past,” at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hidden-in-the-open/sets/72157624480472079/with/6643176983/
The collection spans more than a century, with images from the mid 19th century to as late as the 1980s. Many are accompanied by essays that reveal how African-American gay men met each other and survived in a hostile world. A long introductory essay discusses early styles of photography (see the sixth paragraph) as well as a critique of modern images of African-American gay men.
LGBT history is important to people who are or serve LGBT elders now not just because many of us lived through these experiences, but also because it’s important to really get that LGBT people have existed in all eras and places. This stirring collection is an important piece of the puzzle.
In one of history’s delicious ironies – in line with both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dying on July 4 – Frank Kameny, 86, died on October 11, 2011 – National Coming Out Day.
Frank was one of the earliest, most visible Gay activists to shatter the closet door and come out swinging. In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. Rather than slink away as others did, he fought, ultimately taking his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Although he lost that case, he again refused to give up, and continued to play critical roles in the development and maturation of the LGBT rights movement. GrayPrideParade.com wrote about him on May 10, 2011.
Last week Metro Weekly reported that in the last couple years, Frank Kameny was physically incapable of keeping up all aspects of his home, and – due in large measure to the employment discrimination he’d faced throughout his life – was financially unable to hire the work out. At one point, he kept warm via his kitchen stove. Both straight and gay volunteer groups as well as mainstream government services were mobilized by a series of knowledgeable advocates to fill in his gaps, allowing Frank to die peacefully in his long-term home. To read more about who did what and get inspired for your own community work, you can read the article at http://www.metroweekly.com/feature/?ak=6674
What does it take to survive the literal Holocaust? 98-year-old Rudolf Brazda, the last known remaining gay survivor of the German death camps, suggests it takes a sense of humor and gratitude.
“I had always been blessed with good fortune” is the title of a German-language biography of him, a title that reflects his philosophy. A long profile in Spiegel walks us through highlights of his life and how he lives now, in an Alsatian hospital. (Make sure you read past the fourth paragraph, or you’ll miss the point of the painful opening story.) He speaks of openly holding hands with his lover in 1934, when Hitler was already beginning to openly persecute gay men (lesbians, the article says, were never sent to the death camps). He explains how homosexual prisoners were separated from the rest of the concentration camp inmates, and sentenced to “extermination through labor.” Brazda escaped that fate by being selected by another camp inmate, a political prisoner, given supervisory powers for his lover.
The article also describes what happened after the war, when liberated gay men were still shunned by the community at large. Even now, the memorial for the estimated 6,000 gay men who were imprisoned and died during the holocaust has been repeatedly attacked.
What does he want us to remember? “People need to know that we homosexuals were persecuted,” he says, pausing for effect, “by people who themselves were also gay.”
The article, which includes three photos (one of which is seen here), is available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,772667,00.html
In 1957, Frank Kameny was fired as a government astronomer because, a 1966 letter from the head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission under President Lyndon B. Johnson explained, his homosexuality caused “revulsion of other employees.” Displaying the tenacious ferocity he still shows now at age 85, Kameny reacted by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for redress.
That petition is currently on display at the Library of Congress, as part of its ongoing “Creating the United States” exhibit tracing the evolution of the nation’s founding documents and legal frameworks. The current exhibit also displays the federal government’s 1966 response. If you’re in Washington, D.C., the display is in the Southwest Gallery, on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building on 1st Street, S.E. These particular documents are expected to be on display for approximately four months.
If you can’t get to D.C. (or even if you can), there’s a treasure trove of Kameny papers online, at http://www.kamenypapers.org/. In 2007, Kameny donated 50,000 items to the Library of Congress, documenting over 50 years of the gay rights movement. Many of these documents and pictures are available at this website.