Numerous organizations collecting papers, mementos as part of gay history archives
You don’t have to be Harvey Milk to warrant having your history documented, and the team behind the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project is on a mission to make you realize it ― before it’s too late.
The Archives Project is loaded with the foremost experts in archiving gay Georgia history. They include the Auburn Avenue and Ponce de Leon branches of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Atlanta History Center, Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library (MARBL), Georgia State University’s Special Collections & Archives, Kennesaw State University, Touching Up Our Roots, and more.
January 9, 1990: Police stand in front of the Centers for Disease Control as gay activists from ACT UP stage a ‘die-in’ to protest the CDC’s handling of the AIDS crisis. (AJC photo via Georgia State University)
Their goals are to demystify the archival process, combine resources to fill out each other’s collections, and make sure the history they document includes all voices across the LGBTQ spectrum.
The idea for the project sprung in late 2011 with Ann Edmonds, the manager of the LGBT circulating collection at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. She started going to Atlanta SAGE meetings (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders) and became aware that some people were downsizing and didn’t know what to do with some of their things.
Edmonds arranged a presentation to SAGE about how to archive items from their collections, inviting along representatives from Touching Up Our Roots, the Atlanta History Center, Georgia State and Emory as well.
October 11, 1989: Moorylien Jenkins and David Kelly on National Coming Out Day at the Atlanta Gay Center.
What started as a one-off presentation turned into a follow-up meeting in December 2011, where they discussed meeting on a regular basis.
“After that it just took off on its own,” Edmonds says. “It combusted.”
The archivists realized that they had no mechanism to get together and combine resources, play off of each other and support each other.
“We had our first public awareness event at the Rush Center in May 2012,” says Hillery Rink, president of the group. “It filled up the whole meeting space.”
‘An invisible community’
“We want to demystify the process,” Edmonds says. “Most people think about archives and Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk, not realizing that what researchers are looking for now are social histories.”
They not only want to give a human face to certain historical events, but document who suffered the effects, who made things happen and why?
“That kind of human input is what’s going to be gone if we don’t preserve these things,” Edmonds says.
With the South being less progressive than other areas of the country, the LGBTQ community here was at a greater risk of being ignored by traditional media, Rink says. “If you look at it, we were sort of an invisible community,” he says.
Archiving history proves challenging for the LGBTQ community in particular. The AIDS epidemic wiped out not only a generation of gay men, but also their historical collections as well. And many families dispose of their LGBTQ relative’s materials either because of ignorance or discrimination, says Edmonds.
“Many LGBTs are unfortunately not connected with their families, so when they die, their collections are just disposed of,” says Edmonds. “Even in well-meaning families, it’s just not something they’re connected with and they don’t know. So if you haven’t made provisions for it, your part of the picture is gone forever.”
‘People will be looking for it in the future’
Now that the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project has been incorporated (thanks to pro bono work from the Stonewall Bar Association), they are applying to be a 501(c)3 organization so they can raise money to advance the cause.
Simultaneously, they’re recognizing the need to diversify the collection. In short, most of the collection so far is from upper middle class white males and a modest amount of women.
Members of the project continue to give presentations to local groups, like the March 1 event with the Atlanta Prime Timers. Another public awareness event is planned for later this year that will be similar to the one held at the Rush Center in 2012.
In the meantime, the project wants to hear from seniors and others before their place in Georgia’s LGBT history is lost.
“If you’re not there, part of the picture is missing, and it will never be able to be filled in,” Edmonds says. “People care, and they will care in the future, and they will be looking for it in the future.”
SAVING OUR STORIES
What is the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project?
A group of archivists and librarians who are dedicated to preserving Georgia’s LGBTQ history. They have combined resources to point people in the right direction when they have something they want to donate. They will also provide resources on how to view the archive.
Why is there a need for this project?
Because much of LGBTQ history is lost when people pass away, either because their families are not aware of the historical value of certain items, or they don’t care due to intolerance. The AIDS epidemic also wiped out a significant portion of our history.
Where can I view a sample of the archive?
At the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Georgia-LGBTQ-Archives-Project/257162497710554
Each school or organization also has more information about their archive online along with visiting information if applicable:
• Ponce de Leon Branch of Atlanta-Fulton Public Library: http://www.librarything.org (username poncedeleonlibrary, password 123456)
• Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL): http://marbl.library.emory.edu
• Kennesaw State University’s Museums, Archives & Rare Books: https://web.kennesaw.edu/archives/lgbtiq-project
• Georgia State University: http://research.library.gsu.edu/lgbtqiq
What is eligible to be donated?
More than you realize. Photo albums, private letters, papers, computer hard drives, protest signs used in parades, t-shirts, flyers, gay media publications and much more.
I’m not famous, so why would the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project want my stuff?
“Fame is not required” as the group will tell you. If you’re considering something to give, contact them and let them decide whether it’s worth being archived.
Okay, I think I have something I want to donate. What do I do?
The archivists want me to sort through my stuff first before submitting, right?
No! There is no telling what you have and the archivists would much rather sort through it themselves so nothing important gets thrown out before it reaches them. The very things that people think aren’t useful are the very things an archivist might be missing.
What if I can’t or don’t want to donate my things right now?
Contact the Archives Project and they will help you arrange to have it written into your will so that nothing gets tossed out.
Here are some items that a couple of the organizations are looking for. Happy hunting!
Kennesaw State University
1. Missing/damaged issues of Southern Voice. View the list of the issues they are looking for here: https://web.kennesaw.edu/archives/lgbtq-publications-collection
2. People involved with early LGBTQ student groups and events on the KSU campus
3. Cobb Citizens Coalition
4. Activists and organizations involved with the “Olympics Out of Cobb” campaign
Georgia State University
1. Issues of The Atlanta Gay Center News
2. Issues of RFD (journal of the Radical Fairies)
3. Issues of local lesbian newsletter Amethyst
4. Issues of local Prime Timers newsletter Aptitudes