AAO Tour: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

CLGA Reading Room

CLGA Reading Room

One of the highlights for me at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference was the tour of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) located in Toronto. The CLGA was amazingly well represented at AAO with two of their staff members presenting, a site tour on the conference program, and numerous CLGA volunteers involved in the conference.

The CLGA tour included an interesting discussion of the history of the organization – the early grassroots connection to Pink Triangle Press, police raids of archival collections, and the challenge of gaining recognition as an archive and as a non-profit organization.  Jade Pichette, the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinate led the tour I was on and they did an excellent job of integrating stories of resilience, community history, and challenge into the tour.

It was also intriguing to see what the CLGA has done to cope with it’s location in a historic house and to work around challenges of space, lack of environmental controls, and accessibility. I love the fact that CLGA is also a community space and has partnered with other organizations to put on artistic performances in their space, allow meeting space to be used by community groups, and create other engagement opportunities within their space.  Similarly, I was impressed by the movement to reach people where they are – and put CLGA collections in other visible community spaces through exhibitions and programming.

The tour also allowed for a peak at the range of material held by CLGA.  The archive has an extensive archival collection but it also has a well developed library, poster collection, audio-visual holdings, portrait collection, vertical file/clippings collection, and a reading room.  The range of the material in the archive also speaks to the ephemeral nature of much Queer* history, the event orientation nature of some community collections, and the value of saving community memories associated with mediums other than paper.

Personally, I was also really happy to see that the CLGA tour also started with introductions and provided participants a chance to express their preferred pronouns. The CLGA staff were also very active on Twitter throughout the AAO conference and encouraged folks to add their pronouns to their name tags.

The seemingly small change to adding pronouns to name tags can be huge and can go a long way to make begin to make conference spaces more welcoming for trans, non-binary, gender fluid, and other folks. This is something I would really like more organizations to take note of include in plans for upcoming events.

Reading: Make Roanoke Queer Again

Person holding book.

Used under CC0 license.

The latest issue of The Public Historian featured a number of great articles including “Make Roanoke Queer Again: Community History and Urban Change in a Southern City” by Gregory Rosethal. This article explores the specifics of interpreting queer history in Roanoke, Virgina but also focuses more broadly on queer community history projects, resistance through grassroots history, and interpreting urban history through a queer lens.

Rosethal argues that “queer public history projects can utilize cities as living laboratories for the exploration of the queer past” (p. 43). When discussing the history of urban environments and marginalized communities looking at places of past activism, past conflict, past meeting/social connection venues can be hugely powerful.  Similarly community experiences of erasure of flourishing can frequently be tied to physical spaces.  Rosethal uses the examples of the Make Roanoke Queer Again bar crawl and the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project of examples of community history rooted in collecting, preserving, and sharing queer histories.

I loved this article’s emphasis on the idea of queer history being connected to physical spaces, geographic places, and as a lived history.  In many communities queer history has gone undocumented and at times is seen as non-existent or as irrelevant. Grassroots activism and community based history initiatives are one of the many ways to document queer pasts and realities – and I think that acknowledging the diversity of queer* experiences and histories is something that is hugely important when creating local history narratives.  Rosethal’s article is well worth the read if you’re at all interested in community based public history or queer history interpretation projects.

Reading: Interpreting LGBT History At Museums and Historic Sites

Ferentinos-210x300Months ago as part of a National Council on Public History annual conference workshop I received a copy of Susan Ferentinos book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic SitesI started reading the book months ago but somehow it managed to get lost in my to-read pile until fairly recently.  This book examines queer history in the United States, provides an overview of sexuality and gender studies in the US, includes three case studies on interpreting LGBT history at historic sites, and a lengthy additional reading list for more information.

I learned more than I anticipated in the sections which covered queer history in the US – perhaps partially because queer history touchstone events in Canada follow a different time line and the history of the LGBT movement in Canada has been documented in different ways than the US.  This background section is worth a read if you’re not familiar with queer history in the US. I also really enjoyed the case studies which included in the book – all of which looked at approaches and challenges related to interpreting LGBT history as a public historian.  The case studies looked at queer history in museum spaces, historic houses, and archival settings.  They also touched on the value of integrating queer history in permanent exhibition or interpretation guides vs the inclusion of LGBT materials in special or temporary programming.  For me these case studies where the real value add and the best part of the publication.

This book contains a lot of advice around consultation, community based interpretation, and the need to have institutional and local buy-in to projects relating to LGBT history.  It’s a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about queer history in the US or about successful initiatives relating to the display and discussion of LGBT history in the US.