The H. Franklin Brooks Philanthropic Fund, a charitable fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, has announced an ongoing and diverse multimedia archival record of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) life in Middle Tennessee.

The initial stage of this extensive and groundbreaking project will collect oral histories and related materials from members of the Middle Tennessee GLBT community, which will be archived for use by researchers, educators and individuals and from which a documentary film will be produced.

What was life like in the first half of the twentieth century for the GLBT community? Was there a gay community? If so, what form did it take? What do people remember hearing said about homosexuality?

These are a few of the questions the Brooks Fund History Project will address as producers interview twenty-five local GLBT community members who have first-hand knowledge and experience of GLBT life, some going back as far as the 1930s. Interviewees will represent a diverse group of the GLBT community. Careful attention will be given to the privacy and confidentiality of people who wish to participate anonymously. 

“Gay and lesbian citizens of Middle Tennessee have a lot to tell us about what life was like for them fifty or sixty years ago,” said Iris Buhl, steering committee member. “They were – and are – an integral part of the fabric of this community. Our knowledge of the history of Middle Tennessee is incomplete without their stories. That’s why the Brooks Fund is mounting this effort.”

With a stage one budget of $80,000, the Brooks Fund History Project’s steering committee has raised almost $50,000 in cash and pledges. Four members of the Brooks Fund advisory board, Iris Buhl, John Bridges, Jim Mathis and Dr. Roger Moore, plus documentary producer Deidre Duker, serve as the steering committee with consultation from Dr. Dan Cornfield, professor of Sociology and director of Vanderbilt Center for Nashville Studies. In addition, a group of community leaders has been recruited to advise and help implement many aspects of the project. Collection of the oral histories will begin in 2008.

Over time, The Brooks Fund History Project plans to archive relevant GLBT historical information such as photographs, documents and memorabilia, much of which is are in private collections, university archives, archives of local television stations and of both mainstream and gay newspapers.

“Gay and lesbian histories and archives exist around the country, usually in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston and Chicago, or at major universities such as Stanford and Duke,” said Mike Smith, chair of the Brooks Fund advisory board. “Middle Tennessee needs to have such an archive. It is part of our community’s history, and we intend that it always be easily accessible to all Middle Tennesseans.”

By supporting and encouraging the development of programs that serve the GLBT community, the Brooks Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee increases philanthropic options and opportunities within the GLBT community. Named for H. Franklin Brooks, a Vanderbilt professor of French and Italian for 25 years and an advocate for the inclusion of gays in Vanderbilt University’s anti-harassment policies, the Fund has given out more than $141,000 in the twelve years of its existence.

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee oversees more than 620 charitable funds. In the past sixteen years, The Community Foundation has distributed $320 million to community programs and institutions. Currently, The Community Foundation manages funds totaling $420 million.

To make a gift to support the Brooks Fund History Project, call Michael McDaniel of The Community Foundation at 615-321-4939, extension 101.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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