Taking Pride in the Past

By Tamara Juarez, March 2017 Issue.

Editor's Note: This event has been postposed until further notice.

Just in time for Pride season, the Arizona LGBT+ History Project is back with another event.

The partnership, formed by Phoenix Pride, Arizona State University Libraries and “hip historian” Marshall Shore, began formally preserving Arizona’s LGBT+ history through a unique collection of photographs, artwork, clothes, publications and other memorabilia ahead of last summer’s “LGBT History in Arizona, 1696-2014” at ASU.

The project’s latest event, will take place March 11 at Crescent Crown Distributing in Mesa, will exhibit new additions to its archive and host an open discussion about how to gather and save pieces of history.

“It’s going to be a really fun night,” said Shore, lead researcher and project manager. “Those who attend will get the opportunity to meet a great group of people and learn about Arizona’s LGBT[Q] history, which a lot of members in our community don’t know much about.”

The event will feature performances by the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus and local storyteller Nate Romero, a presentation by Shore, who will discuss the project’s most exciting discoveries and food and refreshments will be provided throughout the evening. 

“The purpose of this event is to educate and share stories,” Shore said.

The southwest has a long and rich history, but until recently, Arizona’s LGBTQ milestones have been largely undocumented, so not many people know that the community has roots dating back more than 50 years.

“When you think of LGBT[Q] history, you probably think of Stonewall in New York City or landmark building in Hollywood. You think of those larger cities as having a LGBT[Q] history, but now with the societal shift of having gay marriage, more people are wondering what was life like before, and that is what’s we’re trying to accomplish with this project … we’re trying to preserve history to know what life in Arizona was like back in the day.”

Throughout the past two years, project organizers and volunteers collaborated to digitize information and increase access to the project’s archives, so residents can browse through documents or make donations to the project. Soon, the archive will begin to include recordings of oral history from LGBTQ citizens from around the state. These digital archives can be viewed at azarchivesonline.org (search LGBT).

Through this project and series of events, Phoenix Pride’s executive director Justin Owen hopes to see an increase of involvement and interaction among LGBTQ members of all ages as they work to preserve their community’s history.

“Younger generations need to understand where we came from and how [we] got here, because understanding and treasuring our past is just as important as embracing our future, and our past tells us the struggles we’ve been through and how hard people have worked to get to where we are today.”

Unlike other subjects, Owen explained, LGBTQ history is trickier to document, because it is commonly unrecognized or ignored by familial, institutional and faith-based sources. Frequently, it is up to individual cities to track down their own history.

“You don’t see a lot of straight parents teaching their LGBT[Q] children, because they don’t have the context ... they don’t teach LGBT[Q] history in school ... and there aren’t many churches talking about LGBT[Q] issues,” he said, “so if you look at the three primary areas people learn about history, LGBT[Q] issues are not covered.”

Nancy Godoy-Powell, an archivist with ASU Libraries, said she currently working to bridge this disconnect by creating a comprehensive and easy-to-use online resource that serves as the main repository for LGBTQ archives in Central Arizona.

“LGBT[Q] history is under-documented in Arizona, and we’re dedicated to fixing this problem, because multiple perspectives are needed in order to get a balanced understanding of Arizona history,” she said. “We want to preserve their stories and make that knowledge accessible to future generations.”

Since the project was launched in 2015, it’s received hundreds of donations and is expected to increase alongside Arizona’s growing LGBTQ population.

This event is free and open to the entire community; however, registration is required and can be completed at arizonalgbthistory.org.

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