Although lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have long fought for rights, respect and acceptance, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide might be seen as the most prominent milestone to date. The historic ruling will certain help boost an already growing awareness of and interest in LGBT people and communities. Fortunately, libraries can help by referring people to existing collections and archives that preserve LGBT history.
A recent story in the LA Times spotlighted the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive, housed in the USC library. Founded in 1952 (an astonishing fact, given the attitudes of the times) and considered to be possibly the largest LGBT archive, the collection contains more than 2 million items, including diaries, periodicals and literature, photographs, and letters. ONE is working with local schools to meet a 2011 California law that incorporates LGBT history into public school curriculum. It’s a challenge, as much of the historical materials were either destroyed or simply labelled under abnormal psychology. ONE doesn’t stand alone, however. There are many libraries and organizations that strive to give voice to the contributions from the LGBT community.
The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) collection is available at the LaBudde Special Collections Department of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City as well as the Kansas City Museum. Descriptions of their collection are accessible online and they have launched an oral history initiative. http://library.umkc.edu/spec-col/glama/index.htm
Since 1985, San Francisco has a GBLT Historical Society with the first stand-alone GBLT museum and archives. (Interestingly, their archive is also claimed to be the largest one.) Their website offers searching from their archives and periodical collections. Their collection includes over 400 hours of GLBT radio broadcasts. They also have a searchable database of full-text obituaries since 1979 in the San Francisco area. http://www.glbthistory.org
The Gerber/Hart Library and Archives was founded in 1981 and has grown into the Midwest’s largest LGBTQ circulating library with over 14,000 volumes, 800 periodical titles, and 100 archival collections. The library is located in downtown Chicago, with the belief “that knowledge is the key to dispelling homophobia.” http://www.gerberhart.org/
The Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN) was founded “to discover and publicize the history of sexual minorities in the Pacific Northwest.” The organization was formed by local historians in 1984. Their collection is housed in the Oregon Historical Society’s Reference Library. A description of the collection can be found at http://www.glapn.org/5000collections.html.
There’s even an LGBT Religious Archives Network, “an innovative venture in preserving history and encouraging scholarly study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) religious movements around the world.” They offer online exhibits as well as a catalog.
The New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts has a Black Gay and Lesbian Archive within the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Unfortunately, access to materials is restricted but they do have an online contact form.
Finally, it bears noting that the Society of American Archives support archiving LGBT history. The Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable (LAGAR) produce the Lavender Legacies Guide to sources in North America.