Way(too)Gay Archives

I was really bummed to miss the visit to the John C Wilcox archives with our class. I have worked at William Way for almost two years and I had been looking forward to watching my classmates experience what has so often felt like a second home to me. As both an organizer of Philly Dyke March and a Development Associate for the center I have worked with our public history in different forms. For the queer community having a space like the Wilcox archives and the larger community center is so meaningful. In a recent retrospective campaign celebrating the 40th anniversary of the center former executive director Claire Baker summed it up: “We can have nice things. We can do this. We can take care of ourselves. We don’t need to wait for anyone to rescue us. WE are our own champions.” (The video has Bob too! https://youtu.be/QVTBuzM6Loc)

Even forty years later our community must constantly challenge hegemony and become the champions for our human rights. Though we are rapidly advancing we are still in danger of one sided historicity. When the William Way Center changed their name to “LGBT Community Center” the John C Wilcox archives did not. Even though the most common modern abbreviation is LGBTQ for some reason the archive is named “GLBT”. I don’t know if my experience is unique but I am uncomfortable when someone uses GLBT instead of LGBT. It feels like a microaggression and I personally take the use as an active prioritization of gay cisgender males. For me it is as if the person is saying “Look, I know thousands of woman fought to be heard and now lesbians are supposed to be listed first BUT I still think gay men should be at the top of the food chain.” What does it mean that the people who hold the access to our community’s history can’t bear to give in to progress? When the very building the archive resides in uses LGBT it’s hard for me to assume that it’s a mere oversight.

I do not know what artifacts Bob pulled for Bryn Mawr’s visit but in my work with the archives I constantly had to dig to find images of people of color, transwomen, and even lesbian leaders. (If anyone is interested, I have our entire digital image directory on my Dropbox and would be willing to show it to whoever likes old queer pics!) My favorite part of the archive is the Gitting’s collection. Daughters of Bilitis founder & all around badass Barbara Gittings‘s widow Kay donated a huge amount of her personal effects which are a true treasure. They are so important in contextualizing the progress of LGBT rights in the past 50 years – she was everywhere. But what stories are still missing from the archives? As we move into a digital age it is becoming increasingly easy to make artifacts accessible online but the Center often has to fight to keep up with rising costs and limited resources. The center should reach out to people doing social movement work digitally and start to document the modern queer movement in a way that can be cheap and accessible.

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