Out of the Closet, Into the Archives

For most of the twentieth century in the United States, BGLTQ people felt it necessary to conceal their sexual identities in order to get by in a society that “associated homosexuality with shame, scandal, and prurience.” Documentary evidence of BGLTQ people was often destroyed to prevent family scandal and the material that did make it into archives was often under-described, successfully veiling its existence. It wasn’t until the 1950s that self-proclaimed “homophiles” began to organize in order to rally for gay and lesbian civil rights. Many of these activists believed that knowledge of BGLTQ history was necessary to overcome the shame associated with homosexuality and, in what became an act of activism in itself, began to collect and preserve material documenting BGLTQ history. Early archives such as the International Gay and Lesbian and Archives (Torrance, California) and the Lesbian Herstory Archives (New York, New York) opened in 1974, followed by a number of community-based archives across the country over the following decades. As the field of BGLTQ history became considered a legitimate field of study more mainstream archives began collecting and preserving this material.

In celebration of Gaypril, a series of Harvard-wide events during the month of April that celebrate and bring awareness of the BGLTQ community, Houghton and Schlesinger Libraries present a selection from their collections that serve to document BGLTQ history.

Lamont Library

Open to Harvard ID holders only or by appointment.

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