One For The History Books
By Liz Massey, August 2016 Issue.
Recent positive developments in the struggle for LGBTQ equality – such as the U.S. Supreme Court upholding marriage equality last year – as well as tragedies – such as the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando – have accelerated the development of Arizona LGBT History Project, according to organizers.
The project, a partnership between Arizona State University Libraries, Arizona’s “hip historian” Marshall Shore and Phoenix Pride officially launched in 2015.
As a result, an exhibit of local community archival materials, such as magazines, newsletters, political buttons, T-shirts and other items, entitled “LGBT History in Arizona, 1969-2014,” opened at Hayden Library on ASU’s Tempe campus one year later.
Following the exhibit’s June 16 opening, various materials covering nearly half a century of the Valley’s gay history, with items dating from 1966 to 2015 are on display and open to the public through mid-August.
“Events such as Orlando have a massive impact on our community … they remind the mainstream of how our community is marginalized and often pushed to the side,” said Justin Owen, Phoenix Pride executive director.
Left to right: Jim O’Donnell, University Librarian at ASU; Nancy Godoy-Powell, an archivist with ASU Libraries, Marshall Shore, Arizona’s “hip historian”; Robrt Pela, Phoenix New Times columnist; and Justin Owen. Phoenix Pride executive director. Photo courtesy of facebook.com/ASULibraries.
In times such as these, Owen added, understanding how the LGBTQ community has survived is critical to move the national conversation on equality forward.
Curating The Collection
Although the Arizona LGBT History Project is a recent initiative, its roots extend more than a decade and a half into local queer history. The Valley of the Sun Gay and Lesbian Center, which disbanded in the early 2000s, held a substantial collection of books, periodicals and memorabilia in its Bj Bud Collection.
At the time of the center’s demise, Shore said he was working as a librarian for the Phoenix Public Library, and he helped find temporary housing for the archival materials.
“Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA), C. 1980s,” ASU Libraries
“I found warehouse space for the collection with the help of Friends of the Library, a separate 501(c)(3), which is extension of the library and its fundraising,” Shore said. “There were many local periodicals in those boxes, and I became very familiar with the vibrant community that existed back then through those publications.”
The books in the Bj Bud collection have remained with successive LGBTQ community centers, while most of the archival materials were donated to Arizona State University Libraries in 2004.
While the 151 boxes in the collection were assimilated into the institution’s Arizona Collection, they sat unprocessed for more than a decade, according to Nancy Godoy-Powell, an archivist with ASU Libraries.
Godoy-Powell noted that she arrived in the University Archives department in 2012, and while she was hired to oversee the institution’s Chicano Research Collection, an opportunity to work on the Bj Bud Memorial Archives soon presented itself.
“The state archives did a survey in 2012 to determine which communities in Arizona were under-documented,” she explained. “It showed that minority communities, including the LGBT community, were being marginalized in our collections. After the survey, opportunities became available to fix that.”
In 2015, Godoy-Powell’s supervisor asked if she would like to process the Bj Bud Collection, and she spent most of the year doing just that, with assistance from ASU faculty and staff members, including senior history lecturer Pamela Stewart.
After Godoy-Powell created a collection overview (referred to as finding aids) and organized the materials within the boxes, she reached out to the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center and offered to create an online exhibit of materials in the collection in honor of the organization’s 35th anniversary.
Once the online exhibit was launched, conversations about creating a traveling exhibit of selected physical materials from the collection followed. By January 2016, Phoenix Pride (the parent organization of the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center) offered to house the history project under its auspices.
Another recent event that catalyzed the drive for an LGBTQ history project, according to Owen, was the demolition of the building that once housed the historic 307 Lounge in early 2015. A coalition of concerned LGBTQ residents labored with the city of Phoenix to stop the demolition of the building, but ultimately failed. They did, however, get the site developer to agree to place a historical plaque on the sidewalk in front of the property to explain its historical significance.
“After that happened, Brendan (Mahoney) and I were discussing the fact that various minority communities had documented their history, but our community had not,” Owen said.
“Arizona AIDS Walk, 1997,” ASU Libraries.
Capturing The Community
The destruction of the 307 Lounge highlighted another challenge to LGBTQ history aficionados: The generation that came out and lived before and immediately after Stonewall was passing away and, as a result, their stories were being lost.
Owen said that one area in which the project would be able to complement ASU’s stewardship of the physical archives was by seeking out senior members of the community to discuss what their lives were like in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
In addition to the possibility of hosting a future Arizona Storytellers Project night focused on the LGBTQ community, Owen said the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center also wanted to record and collect oral histories from community members.
“Oral history is a very important way for us to record the memories of our aging population,” he said.
According to Shore, who has been named as the project manager of the Arizona LGBT History Project, older adults don’t always realize how significant their life experiences and stories could be to generations to come.
“Outside of the collection of 1970s periodicals, we don’t have a lot about what life was like then for LGBT people. Once the people who lived those stories are gone, they will be lost,” he said. “We don’t just want to talk to the leaders of that time period, we want to know how everyday people survived in a hostile climate, who their friends were, what their activities were … It’s those ordinary things that become extraordinary to people in a future time.”
The history project will most likely leverage the rise of smartphone technology to capture the oral histories, teaching community elders and younger volunteers to record the audio and video files on their own equipment and share it with the community, Shore noted.
“Phoenix Pride March & Rally, 1981,” ASU Libraries.
Calling All Contributors
Project organizers emphasized that anyone interested in the history project could participate in its development.
According to Godoy-Powell, the Arizona LGBT History Project will be hosting a community workshop on preserving LGBTQ history, similar to the one that ASU Libraries has hosted for members of the Latino community. The workshop (date and location TBA) will discuss how individuals with materials documenting Phoenix’s LGBTQ history can organize their collections, properly store them until they are ready to donate them, and how to keep the materials – particularly audio, video and computer-based resources – accessible through current technology.
Older community storytellers will be needed for the oral history-gathering initiative, according to Shore, and younger community members and allies could assist by helping the storytellers record their memories, as well as by taking an active interest in the collection’s online and traveling exhibits.
Although Owen said that the project would be seeking grants to fund research costs and was looking into holding events to support the project long-term, donating funds to the Arizona LGBT History Project would help sustain it.
“This project could be costly – there’s a lot of research involved in documenting and processing the contributions,” he said. “We will have to educate people about the cost of preserving our history.”
For more information on donating to the project, visit phoenixpride.org/get-involved/donate.
The goal for the traveling exhibit, Shore explained, is to have various collections that can be set up at Pride festivals around the state, as well as in mainstream history museums that may not have an active LGBTQ historical collection yet and other interested locations throughout Arizona.
After the current exhibit leaves ASU this fall, Owen said there will also be a booth at the Rainbows Festival Oct. 15-16 at Heritage Square Park, where more details would be forthcoming on many of the planned initiatives.
Owen added that interest around the project is already surging, with many community members offering to donate items to the collection.
“People are donating T-shirts, publications, buttons, photos of drag shows and family picnics,” he said. “We can take all that, and much more.”
In the end, Owen said, it is incumbent on the LGBTQ community to preserve its own history, since that has been the only way for it to pass it along to younger generations.
“The three traditional sources of learning your heritage – through institutions such as school, through your family of origin, and through your faith – just aren’t there for us,” he said. “But through this collection, we can document our history for hundreds of years to come, and help our youth better understand what those who came before them had to go through.”
• To view the online version of the LGBT History in Arizona exhibit, visit asulibraries.omeka.net/exhibits/show/lgbt-history-in-arizona.
• To learn more about the Bj Bud Memorial Archives at ASU Libraries, visit azarchivesonline.org (search: Bj Bud).