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From the Vault: LGBTQ+ Internet Archives

Mapping the rabbit holes of LGBTQ+ topics, discussions, and culture.

By and Featured, News

Illustration by Anna Cai.

As Pride month comes to a close, discussion of LGBTQ+ people and stories don’t end. This month, F Newsmagazine created our own curated digital archive of our past coverage of LGBTQ+ issues, from the 1980s to present day. Documentation and online collections allow us as viewers to connect and learn with those who came before us and better understand both our world and history. Here are six web archives covering different LGBTQ+ topics and discussions that will give you a lot of web to browse.

GLBT Historical Society

About: The GLBT Historical Society hosts a San Francisco-based museum and  extensive archive.  The GLBT Society’s mission from the start has been to archive queer history and make it accessible. Their Digital Collections make materials accessible online to those who may not be able to visit San Francisco.

Content: Letters, photographs, films, and oral histories are all found on the Digital Collections. Examples of collections include the Lorainne Hurdle papers, photographs from the life of Lorainne Hurdle, a black lesbian who served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, that document her life and friendships with other women. Another example is the Henri Leleu Bar Photographs, a collection of colored photography of San Francisco gay bars and clubs from the 1960s and ’70s. The collections span different eras and issues, and while I could go through one-by-one pointing out some of my favorite discoveries, I think it’s more fruitful to allow you to explore the dozens of digital collections on their website. Also notable is the website’s Online Exhibitions, a more curated look into certain people, issues, and artworks.

Accessibility: 

  • Web pages take awhile to load — especially in the Digital Collections. Many of the collections are hosted on archive.org and there’s significant lag when redirected to that website. 
  • Some of the digital collections are parts of larger collections in the GLBT’s physical archive. It’s easy to run into roadblocks with certain items that aren’t uploaded online but are referenced. However, you can reach out to the GBLT Historical Society to get information on how to access the files.
  • If the collection you’re interested in can only be accessed in-person, unfortunately they are based in San Francisco which is a bit far for the average SAIC student.
  • All that being said, the collections online are pretty extensive with a range of different content covering different elements of the LGBTQ community throughout history. 

Gerber/Hart Library and Archives 

About: Gerber/Hart is the largest circulating LGBTQ library in the Midwest and holds a vast collection of archived printed materials, video, and objects.

Content: Gerber/Hart is focused on the culture and history of people marginalized on the basis of gender and sexuality, primarily LGBTQ people, in Chicago and the broader Midwest. Their collection ranges from zines, to pride parade memorabilia, to erotica; their subjects include everything from leather bars, to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to disability history. Gerber/Hart is one of the best options (that I’ve found) in Chicago for interacting with local LGBTQ history in person, but it has many flaws. The biggest flaw is that it has a bias toward the people with the most opportunities and resources to record and preserve their lives and history: White, abled, cis LGBQ people, especially those who are wealthy. While the collection is continually growing, I haven’t been able to find any information from them about how or if they’re working to preserve more BIPOC, disabled, and working class history.

Accessibility:

  • Gerber/Hart is free and open to the public Wednesday and Thursday for limited hours — although they are willing to arrange group visits outside of those hours.
  • Located off the Loyola Red Line stop, there is a bit of a walk from the train station, although there is a bus that drops off about a block away. The space is above a Howard Brown location and there are elevators available in the building. It should also be known that there is a police station next door.
  • Most of their collection is not available to view online, although they do have a handful of online exhibits and video collections
  • The majority of the catalog is online, so you can find out if they have what you’re looking for before making the long train ride north. 
  • While you can’t take materials from the archive out of the space, the majority of books are available to check out.

Queer Music Heritage

About: Queer Music Heritage, originally a radio show by JD Doyle, now archives all episodes of the show as well as extensive additional information about LGBTQ musicians and music.

Content: Take a trip back in time through ’90s/early-2000s internet design and music. The Queer Music Heritage website, run by JD Doyle, archives a radio show from 2000 to 2015. The goal of the show was to preserve and share LGBTQ music. All of the episodes of the show are archived as well as pages about specific musicians and issues. Singles and EPs from obscure musicians are available for listening and downloading. The website is a treasure trove of different kinds of music featured on the radio show, ranging from yearly holiday specials, which include songs like “Disco Santa” by Holiday Express, to niche queer music themes, like an entire hour-long episode of music inspired by Harvey Milk. There are also sub-sections of the website broken down by genre, such as Gay Musicals, or by artist, like a page about musician Beverly Shaw. Doyle has spent a lot of time documenting obscure musicians, but because of the website’s unique layout, that documentation can sometimes be hard to navigate. It’s worth mentioning that because the endeavor relies on the tastes of one person, the curation is, on some level, related to what Doyle finds worth archiving, which, while extensive, is sure to fall short of comprehensive. 

Accessibility: 

  • The website is difficult to navigate at times. Some links are embedded within images and some pages use colors that can cause a bit of eye strain. 
  • A lot of the information about artists is embedded within the radio shows and may be inaccessible to viewers who can’t listen to the show. Additionally, on pages where the information is included in text instead of audio, the text is frequently from embed images and might be hard for screen readers to access. 

Digital Transgender Archive 

About: The Digital Transgender Archive is an online hub pulling from a wide variety of institutional archives, created and maintained by a small team of academics.  

Content: The Digital Transgender Archive has a broad focus, including anything and everything relating to transgressing and living in defiance of contemporary Western gender norms. Their digital collections include everything from 600 year old paintings, to gay FTM activist Lou Sullivan’s newsletters, to pins and zines from 90’s queer anarchists. While it is an international collection, it tends to be white — and particularly U.S.- and Canada-centric. This problem is further complicated by their policy of not labeling items with racial terms if they don’t have clear evidence of how the people who created and are depicted in the items identified themselves. This avoids misrepresenting people but makes it more difficult to find records of BIPOC people in the collection, especially records using language removed in time or place from 20th and 21st century U.S. and Canada. They acknowledge this problem and are working to expand their collections about people who are currently underrepresented in the archive, and they highlight ways to find more records about BIPOC history here.

Accessibility:

  • The entire collection is free and available online, and has excellent search functions for navigating through it. 
  • Because they’re pulling from the digital collections of a variety of institutions, alternative formats for materials aren’t always available.
  • They are currently working to add specific content warnings to their collection, and most items are tagged with general topics including those that are potentially triggering. They go into more detail on their policies around potentially harmful materials here.

Queer Comics Database

About: The Queer Comics Database lists the titles of different comic books, webcomics, graphic novels, and comic strips that have LGBTQ representation in them. It also gives information on where to find the comics. 

Content: The Queer Comics Database was created to faciliate access to comics that have representation from across the LGBTQ spectrum, including intersectional representation. The database hosts almost 400 titles, ranging from webcomics, to comics books, to graphic novels. While by no means a comprehensive list of every comic to have queer representation, the database has a deep collection. Using the tags on the website, you can filter for  specific kinds of representation, genres and forms of comics, and demographics of readership. While sorting through comics that can be read online, I found The Life of Gad Beck: Gay. Jewish. Nazi Fighter, a shorter nonfiction comic about Gad Beck, a gay man who resisted Nazi occupation in Germany during WWII. Additionally, I found Superbutch, a long-form webcomic about an alternate universe 1940s with superheroes that protect the queer community from systemic violence. With the extensive filters on the website, there’s bound to be something for everyone, from online to print, fiction to nonfiction, slice of life to action, and much more.

Accessibility: 

  • The website is easy to navigate. The search bar allows filtering for audience, genre, series type, tone, art style, and type of queer representation. There’s also an option to filter for “other tags” which allows the user to search for  other aspects of the comic such as “Black main character,” “main character with mental illness,” “queer elderly character,” and much more. 
  • When a considerable amount of the titles are printed comics that are not available online, tracking down the titles might prove difficult. Sometimes links are included for where to buy the comic, but when these are frequently redirected to the publisher’s website or an Amazon page, it doesn’t give a concrete lead to where someone might buy the book in a brick and mortar shop.
  • The website doesn’t host any of the comics itself so even for the comics accessible online, you will be going to a different website. Sometimes, the website links provided may lead to dead or partially defunct websites, especially for older webcomics where the web domains haven’t been renewed.
  • You may know comics that aren’t on the database — it is not a full list. But if you know of any comics that aren’t featured on the website, you can fill out a form to have the comic included. The form to submit comics can be found here.

Tretter Transgender Oral History Project

About: The Tretter Transgender Oral History Project records oral histories of two-spirit and trans people. While the interviews are also available through the Digital Transgender Archive, it is a project dear to my heart that deserves its own entry.

Content: The archive consists of video and audio interviews, and transcripts of those interviews, with two-spirit and trans people. Those interviewed are primarily based in the U.S., although they include a wide array of ages, identities, and experiences (related to gender and otherwise). Because they’re working directly with people, they have a robust system of tagging interviews — not only with the topics that are covered but with the language people use to describe their identities, making it easy to find interviews with BIPOC and disabled people. They recorded interviews from 2015 to 2021, and currently number 249 in total (although it’s worth noting that they have multiple interviews with some people).

Accessibility:

  • The Tretter Transgender Oral History Project is entirely digital and free to all.
  • There are not specific trigger warnings given, but most items are tagged with general topics including those that are potentially triggering. 
  • The project provides transcripts for the majority of interviews in PDF form, making it possible to search for specific terms before diving into the actual video and audio interviews. They don’t provide any other alternative formats.

Further Reading: 

Quatrefoil Library

Zagria Blog

Leather Archives & Museum

***

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is the Comics Editor at F Newsmagazine. They have never had a Pepsi.

Elton Connell is a contributing writer to F Newsmagazine.

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