October is national LGBT History Month and Pennsylvania has an important place in the history of the modern LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender) civil rights movement. One might assume that history only took place in the state’s major population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But as we are discovering, that is not the case.
For the past six years, the LGBT Center of Central PA History Project has been documenting the history of the LGBT community of central Pennsylvania by conducting oral history interviews and collecting documents, photographs and artifacts relating to the history of this community and its struggles for equality. Interviews have been conducted with more than 135 individuals and recorded, mostly on video, and transcribed.
While most of the narrators are older members of the community who were born in central Pennsylvania and have long-term residence and involvement in the life of the LGBT community, some are from more recent generations, some relocated to Pennsylvania from other places, and some grew up in central Pennsylvania but later moved away. The collection contains a diversity of voices and experiences, and continues to grow with new interviews added each year.
About 100 cubic feet of archival materials including documents, historical photographs, video, and a wide array of three-dimensional artifacts have been carefully collected, catalogued, curated and stored thanks to a partnership with the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections in Carlisle. It is the fastest growing collection of the college’s archives and is also the most used collection of the archives, accessed by students, faculty, researchers, and volunteers of the LGBT History Project.
This project, with its unique partnership between a community-based organization and a professional archive, was recognized with the prestigious J. Franklin Jameson Archival Advocacy Award from the Society of American Archivists in 2014.
The History Project has made the collection accessible to the public through several exhibits it has mounted over the past six years, including an annual exhibit during LGBT History Month at the Dickinson College Archives located in the Waidner-Spahr Library on its campus in Carlisle, called History Comes Out.
This year, the exhibit will include a reception and open house in the archives on Sunday October 14 from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM, during which a much larger selection of documents, photographs and artifacts the collection will be on display in the archives research room, along with a selection of video clips of oral history interviews. Also on display will be the LGBT historic sites mapping project using Google Maps to plot all geographical place references we are finding in the oral histories and documents in the collection that may form the basis for conducting future surveys of sites for historical significance.
The History Project has also sponsored related programming including lectures, story circles, and documentary film screenings, and is also making an increasing amount of its collection available on the web at www.centralpalgbtcenter.org/lgbt-history-project.
The manuscript for a book has been written, currently titled Out in the Hinterland: Creating a LGBT Community in the Heart of Pennsylvania, and is anticipated to be published by Penn State University Press in 2019. The illustrated book relies heavily on the History Project collection, supplemented by material from other archives and sources, and chronicles the development of the LGBT community in central Pennsylvania through the past seven decades.
The History Project also started the PA LGBT History Network, a collective of more than 100 individuals, organizations and institutions that have LGBT history collections, or are interested in the topic. The network seeks to raise awareness of Pennsylvania’s important place in LGBT history and the many archives, historical societies, museums, organizations and other locations where LGBT history collections can be found.
The Network is currently planning an exhibit that will travel around the state in 2019 telling the story of the Pennsylvania LGBT community’s long road to equality by passing local non-discrimination ordinance protections, one city or town at a time. Its debut is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Uprising, considered a pivotal event that helped spark the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Visit the PA LGBT History Network’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/625853160935056/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel. To subscribe to the email list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s guest contributor is Barry Loveland, Chair, LGBT Center of Central PA History Project