“Who Tells Your Story?” LGBTQ Community Archives Forum Recap

Elise Chenier leading activity at “Who Tells Your Story?” Photo Credit: John Andries.

The following recap was composed from notes taken by Michael Caroll during a breakout session discussion following “Who Tells Your Story? An LGBTQ Community ArchivES Forum” at William Way LGBT Center, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The forum opened with panelists Elise Chenier (Director, Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony), Steven Fullwood (independent archivist and founder, In the Life Archive, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), and Che Gossett (archivist, Barnard Center for Research on Women) discussing their work on collecting and preserving the histories of lesbians, queer African Americans LGBTQ, and transgender persons. After the forum, attendees discussed the representation and role of resistance in the archives.

Attendees defined resistance much the same way audience members at other listening sessions have: as both everyday practice and as archival material. For individuals in communities where oppression presents challenges on multiple levels or makes life particularly difficult, joy, turning to the mundane, or refusing to be invisible can be forms of resistance.

Resistance can be found in materials or information that haven’t been filtered through the mainstream. Though archivists are trained in verification methods that can privilege men and heteronormativity, they must be sensitive to the original context of materials collected by the LGBTQ community. The archivist can practice resistance by carving out space for materials removed from mainstream methodology. Archivists also can support community resistance by being more directly integrated into these efforts. They can, for example, actively document ongoing resistance or facilitate intergenerational conversations. In general, participants viewed archives much like they do libraries: as informational outlets with valuable documents. Archives are institutions to glean knowledge from, but not necessarily add knowledge to.

While participants expressed a desire for their stories to be preserved in traditional institutions, they also acknowledge a need for archivists to find ways to help people collect and preserve their histories/experiences in a safe way that does not incriminate them. People who identify as LGBTQ sometimes need to remain “closeted.” Archives can achieve this balance and ultimately enrich their collections with more diverse stories by building trust and relationships with the communities they serve. When community members feel free to participate, then they are more willing to engage.

Steven Fullwood presenting at William Way LGBT Community Center. Topic: Who Tells Your Story? An LGBTQ Community Archives Forum. Photo Credit: Johnnie Ray Kornegay III