Queer and Trans people often try to create connections and relations across different historical moments in time, and often rely on archives for this work. As marginalized communities that are constantly in a struggle for visibility, political identity, and space against structural forms of power, for many contemporary queer and transgender people, evidence of their existence emerges in part through critical documentation. Archives offer rich potential for identification-to “find oneself”, learn and gain affirmation through what remains, and also what is absent, or contradictory.
I was very pleased to receive a bursary to attend LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections, significantly titled “Without Borders.” The urgency of our efforts to preserve and share LGBTQ+ and People of Color histories was so palpable at this international conference. I feel this urgency now, in the US, in the aftermath of an election that favors white supremacy. I also felt this in London, after waking up to the news of Brexit. I was staying with two friends of my mother’s. They are two women in their 70’s who sleep in different rooms, but are in a queer, multiracial relationship. We watched the news with tears in our eyes. Later at the conference it was helpful to be surrounded by queers and folks of color who are doing such important work. Work to document trans lives, black LGBT lives, and refugee lives. All of the presentations I attended were so meaningful, and I was so grateful to be able to learn, celebrate, and mourn with all of you. Thank you again to Bishopsgate, London Metropolitan Archives, and all of the organizers and presenters at the conference. I hope to keep in touch and to keep this community growing.
Bathroom at the London Metropolitan Archives
Auntie Suriya at the Tate Modern
Hans at Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Ball
Carpenter was born in 1844 and had a very open and loving relationship with another man, George Merrill, from 1891 until Merrill’s death in 1928. This openness runs counter to the historical ‘truth’ that late Victorian homosexuality consisted of covert and persecuted lifestyles, epitomised by the trial of Oscar Wilde.
I was interested in how I could interweave other lgbt histories, with their complexities and contradictions into the art gallery. Whilst most minority groups, for example those linked by religion, ethnicity or race, have objects that reflect or form part of their culture, there are few ‘gay objects’. Therefore, oral histories become a valuable means of representing members of the fragmented, diverse ‘lgbt community’.
Drawing from the Brighton Ourstory archive, whose remit was to document the lives of people who have same sex desire, I looked for interviews that interested me and started the lateral process of discovering what, if anything, they might tell us about the University of Leeds art collection.
I ended up with eight interviews. An extract from each interview has been indelibly etched into an object that the interviewee could have owned, held or viewed. These works have then been placed next to pictures in the University collection to which they can relate. For some of the pictures in the collection, the links are tenuous and fleeting, for others they are integral to the biographies of the artists. For all, the intention is that the interventions allow for the pictures to be curated and considered in a new way.
Trevor Bell’s Image of Blues, 1960, is paired with a monumental soap piece stamped with a testimony given by Graham a few months before he died of an AIDS-related disease. This pairing repositions Bell’s work away from modernism and links it with Jarman’s filmmaking. The use of soap references Robert Gober’s sinks, kd Lang’s video So in Love, and, visually, the 1980s public information adverts.
Val’s talks about realising that her marriage is coming whilst drinking coffee and realising that she is falling in love with another woman. I was interested in how the same situation was seen differently by the people involved. The intervention, fired into a brown coffee set is paired with two paintings of the same still life by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Painted from slightly different points of view, it is obvious that the objects are the same, but the interpretations differ.
The oral history archive– whist certainly not unedited or unselected – provides a more rounded, representative portrayal of lives and loves than we can often find through objects alone. By using these contradictory histories, and utilising them to reinterpret the pictures from the collection, I hope to reposition the pictures away from their curatorial norms and certainties and into the worlds of emotion, subjectivity and identity.
It is a very personal way of responding to the collection, and I hope that it allows the paintings to be viewed in new ways. There are often many histories to an object and to try and reduce history into a single, unified narrative runs the risk of erasing the lives of those who lived outside of that mainstream and ignores that the past has always been a collection of complex, fragmented and contradictory stories.
 Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
 Whilst this doesn’t necessarily exclude trans people, I didn’t find appropriate reminiscences within the archive and therefore, unfortunately, trans voices are not heard in the exhibition.
Pour celles et ceux qui s’intéressent de près aux questions relatives à l’histoire et aux mémoires, aux archives ou plus globalement au patrimoine des minorités sexuelles et de genre, le congrès qui s’est déroulé à Londres du 22 au 24 juin 2016 a été un moment majeur. Son sigle un peu barbare, ALMS LGBTQ+ (traduit par « Archives, bibliothèques, Musées et collections spéciales lesbiennes, gais, bisexuels, trans, queer et + ») reflète d’emblée la grande diversité de communautés ou d’individu.e.s, de professions ou d’activités, de discours et d’enjeux rassemblés dans le cadre de cet événement.
Tandis que les trois premières éditions (2006, 2008 et 2011) étaient circonscrites au continent nord-américain, c’est Amsterdam, et plus précisément l’IHLIA, qui reçut la précédente ALMS, du 1er au 3 août 2012, marquant ainsi le point de départ et la consécration de l’internationalisation du rendez-vous. La plaquette de présentation, titrée « The Futures of LGBTI Histories », proclamait en introduction une ambitieuse vision de l’avenir :
« By 2020 LGBTI kids will be able to visit a library and find people like them in the archives. They can find out about their history, their heroes, the struggle for their rights. We want to show them how our predecessors lobbied and lived and loved to create a world in which we all are part of the story. This diverse community will be recognized as a part of society. »
Comment collecter et archiver les mémoires LGBTI ? Comment en promouvoir la visibilité et l’accessibilité ? Comment investir et coopérer avec les organisations mainstream ? Et comment, enfin, s’associer pour mettre en œuvre cette vision commune du futur?
Some weeks ago, on the occasion of the LGBT pride parade and the festivities that followed, we celebrated a new anthology published recently in Hebrew. Celebrating the publication of a new book about the LGBT community in Israel is still an important event not only because the publication of a new book is always a celebration but because the library of LGBT and queer books in Hebrew is still very small. When I grew up in the 50s and 60s there was not even a single book to be found in Hebrew. As we all know, the emergence of LGBT literature is not the only aspect of the cultural scene that has changed. As older LGBT people we have, of course, seen a major change in the culture and politics of our societies in the last 40 years.
Israel has been part of this change, whilst at the same time it has had to create its own culture in different languages, thus creating a different trajectory. One of the great changes that I was able to witness first hand was the growing lesbian and gay literature both in Hebrew and Arabic. The main instigators of this change have been two groups of lesbians, one Jewish group named “Klaf” (literally meaning card in Hebrew and also an acronym for Lesbian feminist community) which became active in the late 1980’s, and the other is the queer group of “Aswat” (voices in Arabic) which started to organize in 2003 and which had the vision to publish stories and articles in Arabic and translations from Arabic to English of lesbian stories from the Arab world. Working together, Jewish and Palestinian women inside Israel have been part of my feminist and peace activism since the late 80’s. It is a source of pride that women can offer a different model from the bloodshed and hatred surrounding us. I come from a radical movement, which connects the source of oppression of women and lesbians to the oppression of Palestinians, and thus support their struggle for freedom.
This paper will offer a perspective of activism from an older woman such as myself. Shifting perspectives in a changing world impact our activism. I will argue that the growing interest in archives and the concept of archiving in the LGBT communities is in itself a result of 40 years of activism and a community growing older.
The Haifa Feminist Institute, Isha L’Isha, Haifa, Israel.
As a Bachelor of Cultural Heritage as well as a current Master student of World Heritage Studies, I have never encountered any sign of LGBTQ+ heritage in any of my studies. It’s as though at both Universities in Amsterdam and in Cottbus (Germany) they have never heard of LGBTQ+ heritage, despite both courses emphasising a focus on diversity and social and ethical issues. The lack of recognition for LGBTQ+ heritage made me want to research it for myself and consequentially I decided on a LGBTQ+ heritage topic for my Master’s dissertation. I am currently researching which LGBTQ+ heritage sites in Amsterdam could be protected and preserved as a City or National monument. I am doing this on behalf of the COC, the Dutch national LGBTQ+ rights advocacy organisation.
The ALMS conference “Without Borders” was incredibly inspiring for me. It showed me that despite a lack of attention at the Universities, it is more than made up for by the inspiring projects, and great enthusiasm from all the participants. I would like to thank each and every individual for their input and interesting stories, and also thank the organisation for giving me the opportunity to be inspired and encouraged even further to protect our experiences and our heritage!
When writers and researchers include a paragraph, page or chapter on South Africa’s LGBTI history, it is usually the Simon Nkoli story that is told. The Simon Nkoli Collection has become GALA’s default ‘flagship collection’ and it seems that this can raise some interesting questions. I thought it would be useful to try and understand why this collection holds such interest, and what we can learn from this, and also to ask whether there are any problems associated with a single collection receiving such intensive attention, in contributing to a single (and possibly over-used) narrative to tell the story of a marginalised group.
Simon Tseko Nkoli was an anti-apartheid activist, convicted of treason in the 1980s for his political activism. Following his acquittal and release from prison in 1988, Nkoli founded the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand, known as GLOW. GLOW organised South Africa’s first pride march in 1990 in Johannesburg. And as part of the National Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) Nkoli helped in the campaign to retain the sexual equality clause in South Africa’s new constitution. Hi dual role as political and gay rights activist played a pivotal role in bringing gay rights onto the agenda of the African National Congress. Nkoli also helped establish Soweto’s Township AIDS Project in 1990, and after becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, he initiated the Positive African Men group based in central Johannesburg. He died in Johannesburg in November 1998 of AIDS-related causes.
Reasons why the collection is so popular are fairly plain. Nkoli was a charismatic figure, an anti-apartheid activist as well as a gay-rights and AIDS activist. And he died young – in the hey-day of post-apartheid South African transformation, activism and international good-will. And as the above brief narrative only skims, he played an incredibly important role in the fight for gay and political rights in the 1980s and 1990s. In the words of his Delmas Trial lawyer (now a judge) Caroline Heaton Nicolls: “My view is that Si did more for gay rights in South Africa than any other individual. He made the struggle for gay people part of the broader struggle in South Africa, and I think only he could have done that.”
With an archive such as GALA’s, with a history such as South Africa’s, much of the archival record is dominated by white, gay males. Although this is probably true of other queer archives and history, in South Africa this bias is much more evident and demographically problematic. Early queer rights groups were mostly white, and better documented for obvious social, political and economic reasons. To combat this imbalance, GALA has actively sought out the stories of black activists, as well as the everyday lives and experiences of queer black South Africans, mostly through a number of oral history projects.
Simon Nkoli and GLOW are among the exception. Nkoli’s is one of the few personal collections in the archive representing a black, gay activist. He is the exception in that we have a ‘traditional’ archival record for researchers to access, appealing to academic researchers and theorists (mostly from abroad).
It is for all these reasons, among others, that researchers and historians zero in on his remarkable story.
Nkoli’s role and story is frequently the one that dominates in the telling of South Africa’s history of LGBTI rights. With no wish to diminish Nkoli’s remarkable life and influence, his story is perhaps sometimes told at the expense of others, particularly female activists from the same time period. It is perhaps worth noting that there are large amounts of archival records and collections at GALA that are not being accessed, or accessed only through the very narrow lens of searching for links to Nkoli.
If we use the Nkoli collection as a lens into the archive, what does it tell us?
- For starters there is little interest in queer history prior to the 1980s
- Secondly, the roles of female activists are not often looked at
- Thirdly, almost half of those that access the GALA archives are foreign academics, mostly young
- It also seems that people like to have an iconic figure, to borrow Imma’s title, A Queer Mandela
- And, tying in the LGBTI struggle in South Africa with the anti-apartheid fight is of particular interest, particularly for international researchers.
- Researching LGBTI in terms of race is important to researchers – queer history in South Africa is still highly racialized and gendered
- And lastly, there is a lot of material in the archive not being accessed
Simon Nkoli played a tremendously important role in various struggles in South Africa. One of the reasons his story and image are so often used, why his life continues to be researched, written about and remembered, is that he DID play such a major role and cut across so many different spaces and causes. Though it is hoped that in the future researchers may look beneath this deserving poster child of the LGBTI rights campaign in South Africa, to the rich depth of activists and organizations that make up GALA’s almost 200 collections.
It is also clear that GALA needs to do more work to showcase and highlight the diverse and large amount of material we have available.
 GALA researcher, Z’etoile Imma, is writing a book looking at the increasingly iconic status of Nkoli, titled: “Our Queer Mandela: Simon Nkoli, the Archive, and the Uses of an African Queer Icon”.
The AIDS Scrapbook project began in a hospital in the center of Amsterdam, where I worked as an administrative employee on the infections ward. I spoke to many hospital staff members who had worked on the hospital’s former AIDS ward, in the 1980s and early 1990s. Twenty years later they still talked passionately about their experiences, and showed me the scrapbook they had kept during this period. The book was filled with memorabilia such as letters from patients and staff, updates on ward-issues, and photographs. This piece of medical heritage documented life, and death, on an AIDS ward in Amsterdam, providing a unique representation of this intense period, from a range of perspectives.
I had hoped to base my MA thesis research on this important historical artifact. Unfortunately it has been lost, presumed destroyed. In discussions with my thesis supervisor, Dr. Manon Parry, we related this loss to the limited range of museum and archival collections used for public histories of AIDS in the Netherlands. We decided to digitally recreate the scrapbook, not as a faithful reproduction of the original, but as an experimental source for historical research and interpretation.
The digital scrapbook displays a range of digital material gathered from the community of AIDS healthcare workers and AIDS survivors. Its storyline is focused on community initiatives in the struggle against the AIDS epidemic. The goal of the AIDS Scrapbook project is to draw attention to the lack in collections of material culture in AIDS histories in the Netherlands. Another goal of the project is to make the medical community aware of the value of their heritage, and to propose developing the archive with a view to the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
The ALMS Without Borders conference took place from Wednesday 22 June to Friday 24 June 2016 in London, UK. The conference was hosted by the City of London through London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute and the University of Westminster.
Attending the conference in London was an incredibly valuable experience. It enabled us to access libraries, archives, and museums in the city, and to conduct research and gather information for subsequent projects. The conference was very fertile ground for dialogue and making connections with individuals, groups, and organizations from both, Europe and the United States. We met a variety of individuals including scholars, researchers, PhD students, archivists, curators, librarians, and artists who share an interest in documenting, preserving, and sharing LGBTQ+ cultures and histories. We appreciated the conference organizers’ visible and thoughtful support for and solidarity with the worldwide LGBTQ+ community.
I am very grateful for the bursary from the City of London through the London Metropolitan Archives, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to London to present at the conference. My colleague and I conducted a participatory drawing workshop in which we gathered material for an LGBTQ+ archive we are creating, and in exchange offered free art t-shirts to participants. Additionally, we presented a talk on the final day of the conference to an enthusiastic audience, in which we highlighted several of our projects that use materials from LGBTQ+ archives within the US and beyond. These projects reactivate historical texts and images, putting them back into circulation in response to issues and struggles that continue today. The projects advocate for equality and the preservation of LGBTQ+ culture, in the face of injustice and assimilation. Taking inspiration from grassroots activist movements, we disseminate our messages through democratic means, including exhibitions, drawing workshops, stickers, cards, posters, protest songs, social media, t-shirts, and performance/lectures. Our projects seek to draw connections between the past and the present, bringing the urgency of earlier LGBTQ+ civil rights struggles to bear on the issues of today, as well as preserving the legacies of ordinary LGBTQ+ people everywhere.
We continue to benefit from the connections we forged at the conference. Since the conference ended, we have been in dialogue with many of the attendees. After the conference ended, we met with fellow attendees in Paris, Amsterdam, and the United States. Long after it has ended, the ALMS Without Borders conference continues to facilitate meaningful dialogue, exchange of ideas, and connections for us.
We are grateful for the conference organizers’ invitation to present our project and for their financial support and generosity, without which our involvement and presentation would not have been possible.
AK/OK – Kate Jarboe/M. Wright