IN THE NEWS: Archive Project Preserves Decades of Baltimore’s LGBT History

By  Denise R. DuarteOriginally published in Gay LifeMarch 28, 2013Reprinted with permission
It is a rare opportunity to hold archives in your hands and know that your efforts will be part of LGBTQ history. But that is exactly what is happening at The GLCCB, right now, for a group of very dedicated volunteers.

    Gay Life has been published by The GLCCB for the last 34 years. Recently, the LGBTQ History Committee finished organizing and inventorying all of the publication’s back issues. This collection of Gay Life represents a history of Baltimore and—because The GLCCB is one of the country’s oldest LGBTQ community centers—the history of the nation.
    In early 2012, artist and activist Denise R. Duarte and The GLCCB’s Gary Wolnitzek accessed the randomly stacked and unboxed array of back issues taking over the unfinished portion of the GLCCB’s attic. They knew that creating organized, scanned, digitized versions available for free to the greater community would be an enormous undertaking.
    Now we see the dream becoming a reality. Duarte, the initial LGBTQ History Committee Chair, made saving the collection a personal priority. She and a small, but growing, group of volunteers have been coming together to sort, organize, and inventory the collection. It is an effort that would not be possible if not for GLCCB Senior Volunteer Marty Shayt, who had taken care to save copies of each new issue to the collection over the years. Despite a handful of missing issues, the collection is nearly complete.
    “Our goal is to have a complete set for the collection,” explained Duarte, “This is one of the oldest, continuously published LGBTQ publications in the nation and we would love to have a digital copy of each issue.”
    The next phase is to properly conserve the collection in archival folders and boxes, with the eventual goal of digitization and providing research access, which the volunteers estimate will occur in 2015, assuming they can raise adequate funding for the project. The team is writing grants and exploring additional fundraising opportunities.
    The first publication (then called The Gay Paper) printed in April, 1979, is a black and white newsletter. That newsletter transformed into a myriad of various versions of itself over the years, to today’s full color, monthly lifestyle magazine.
    “The newspapers really connect you to the past. They show you how far things have come,” said current Committee Chair Patrick Alexander. “Yet many of the headlines from 20 or 30 years ago involve issues we’re still dealing with today. The LGBT community has come a long way, but there is still much work to be done.”
    Archive Project Manager Arnie VandeBrake offers a contemporary perspective: “Nowadays, people, especially young people, are so used to having everything at their fingertips and easily accessible. Information is instantly accessible, and you don’t have to worry that it will go away—it exists forever in a digital space. I think that makes this project so important. This is history that only exists in its physical form right now. If it’s not cared for, it will disappear. It will disintegrate.”
    Jill Stromberg, GLCCB Board Member and volunteer values the collection: “By preserving these artifacts and pieces in history, not only are we giving voice to many of those who no longer have it—we are also equipping our current ‘LGBTQA+/Queer’ generation with the knowledge and vision that our mentors and our elders had. This will only be another tool in our belt to move forward in creating the positive change that they worked for, and many died for.”
    The main requirement for the History Committee is that the needs of the collection come first, but they try to have fun while working on them. Alexander echoes this sentiment, “I started working on the newspaper archive project because I wanted to get involved at The GLCCB with something I thought was important and meaningful to Baltimore’s LGBT community. The history of our community is documented within those newspapers and it is imperative that they be preserved.”
    VandeBrake sums up the project’s value: “The most immediately obvious and unmistakable takeaway from having all of these issues in one place and finally put in order is the evolution of the conversations about gay and lesbian issues. You can hold an issue from 25 years ago next to one from last month and you’ll be able to find the same questions being asked, while others would no longer be on anyone’s radar. It can be equally startling to see what issues are no longer in question as it is to realize the issues we’re still fighting for after all this time.”

    Volume 15
    Issue 5

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