This weekend’s Oral History Conference includes events focused on LGBT stories

Know your history

An LGBT plenary session is lined up for the 44th annual Oral History Association conference in Atlanta this weekend at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. Local and national gay and lesbian panelists will speak on the importance of oral history projects.

Oral history projects in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities have been underway for many years — in Atlanta, there is Touching Up Our Roots headed up by Dave Hayward and the artist collective John Q, including Wesley Chenault of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Andy Ditzler and Joey Orr.

Touching Up Our Roots filmed a documentary on noted Atlanta gay activist Jesse Peel, “AIDS, In the Eye of the Storm: the Saga of Dr. Jesse Peel,” who was a leader in the fight against AIDS when it hit the city. The film screens at the conference at 9 a.m. Sunday.

The John Q collective completed a public art project on LGBT history in April titled “Memory Flash” that invited participants to visit, listen and hear stories from Atlanta’s gay past in a day-long project that included Freddie Styles, an original member of the Jolly 12, a black gay social club. Styles shared his story on the same street where he and his gay friends would walk in unison while interacting with their neighbors.

While oral projects are helpful and provide great information for the community they record, “such projects face many challenges typical of community-based oral history projects, including locating appropriate interviewees, organizing and sustaining the effort, garnering community support, securing funding and facing divisions within the community as well as determining how to represent LGBT community histories with authenticity and honesty,” reads a description of the LGBT panel slated for Saturday titled, “Reclaiming Our Stories: A Conversation with Organizers of LGBT Community-Based Oral History Projects.”

The LGBT plenary will be moderated by Ian Lekus, lecturer at Harvard University and chair of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, an affiliate of the American Historical Association.

Panelists are Hayward; Chenault; Chicago-based lesbian journalist Tracy Baim who is also executive director of Chicago Gay History, a web-based project with more than 270 video interviews; and Clenne McElhinney, director of Impact Stories Oral History Project that documents the LGBT movement of the 1960s-1980s with a focus on California.

Also on Saturday, a free and open to the public Community Showcase of local oral history projects will be from 1-5 p.m. in the Capitol North ballroom of the downtown Atlanta Sheraton.

In addition, the Harvard LGBT Alumni organization will hold an LGBT history discussion at Isabella’s Restaurant on West College Avenue in Decatur.  The panel will be moderated by Harvard’s Ian Lekus, and will include Dr. Jesse Peel, Stonewall eyewitness Mary Louise Covington, and local LGBT icon Pat Hussain, who led the Olympics Out of Cobb movement.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt will also be on display throughout the hotel during the conference.

Oral History Association

Conference location:
Sheraton Atlanta Hotel
165 Courtland St., Atlanta, GA 30303

Weekend Schedule

• LGBT plenary session: ‘Times of Crisis, Times of Change: Human Stories on the Edge of Transformation’
10:15 a.m.-noon

• Free community showcase of local oral history projects
1-5 p.m., Capitol North ballroom

• LGBT History Discussion sponsored by Harvard LGBT Alumni
4 p.m., Isabella’s Restaurant, Decatur

• Screening, “AIDS, In the Eye of the Storm: the Saga of Dr. Jesse Peel”
9:15 a.m., Sheraton Atlanta