The Fight Continues: Schomburg Archival Collections to Explore for Pride Month
June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and a great opportunity to explore archival collections documenting the lives of LGBTQIA+ individuals. NYC Pride’s theme this year, The Fight Continues, "reflects the multitude of battles we’ve been fighting as a country and as a city. With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, issues of police brutality, the alarming murder rate for trans POC, economic hardship, climate disasters, violent efforts to disenfranchise voters, our rights as a community being questioned at the level of the Supreme Court, and more, we are in the midst of many different fights."
In honor of the many battles faced by Black LGBTQIA+ individuals specifically, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division Librarian Bridgett Pride and Digital Archivist Zakiya Collier are spotlighting materials created by and about Black LGBTQIA + individuals within the Schomburg Center's collections.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some inequities and highlighted many others in our healthcare systems and society overall especially as they relate to Black and LGBTQIA+ communities. The Schomburg Center has used its unique perspective and web-archiving framework to chronicle the Black experience of COVID-19 including websites that document racial disparities in health outcomes and access, the impact on Black-owned businesses, mutual aid efforts, educational resources, and cultural production.
One such website archived in the COVID-19 web archive collection is an article on the African American Intellectual History Society’s blog, Black Perspectives. In "Teaching HIV and Black Queer Studies During Crisis," Wake Forest University Professor William Mosley connects the COVID-19 pandemic to the HIV/AIDS epidemic which continues to disproportionately affect Black LGBTQIA+ communities. Mosley writes, “those of us teaching in the wake of this newer pandemic would do well to consider the struggle of Black queer peoples as pedagogically significant.”
Police brutality is defined as the excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement. Unfortunately, it can be exacerbated when members of the police force interact with minority communities, including communities of color, or LGBTQIA+ communities. One example can be located in the Stormé DeLarverie Papers. DeLarverie, a male impersonator with the Jewel Box Revue, is often credited as the person who threw the first punch igniting the uprising at the Stonewall Inn.
Located in the Stonewall Veterans Association folder is a letter written by former New York City Mayor, Edward I. Koch on March 29, 1996. In the letter, Koch recalls the Stonewall Riots as a unique incident that “involved an unwarranted police assault directed at the gay community.” In this letter, Koch calls on his readers to remember the night of June 29, 1986, when, on his watch, “those in positions of authority at the police department decided that they would harass gays in private clubs.” Koch authored this letter to praise the bravery of the victims of Stonewall, and to draw attention to his own legislative efforts to “end discrimination based on sexual orientation.” At the end of the letter, he provides a list of 15 pieces of legislation from 1945–1970 that were designed to provide the LGBTQIA+ community with dignity and protection under the law.
Koch letter, page 2.
Edward I. Koch letter to Stonewall Veterans Association, March 29, 1996.
Black lesbian poet, writer, critic, scholar, and activist, Cheryl Clark participated in and advocated for a number of groups and organizations against injustice, which is documented in the Cheryl Clarke papers. One such organization was the Assata Shakur Defense Committee, which advocated for the release of political activist turned political prisoner, Assata Shakur. Clarke visited with Shakur while she was incarcerated and corresponded with the Defense Committee. In a letter dated August 1, 1978, from Sharon Krebs on behalf of the Assata Shakur Defense Committee, Krebs invites Cheryl Clarke to support a campaign against abusive conditions at Trenton State Prison where Assata Shakur’s co-defendant, Sundiata Acoli, was serving a life sentence.
Letter dated August 1, 1978, from Sharon Krebs to Cheryl Clarke.
Krebs letter, page 2.
In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign recorded at least 44 violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States, deeming it the most violent year against transgender people on record. The majority of victims have been Black or Latinx transgender women. While there have been many successful efforts for legislative and social change for LGBTQIA+ communities, there have also been legislative efforts to further marginalize and harm transgender and gender non-confirming such as a series of recently proposed anti-trans bills.
There have been several efforts to combat anti-trans violence and legislation through collective organizing and resource and information sharing. Some of the resource lists produced as a part of these efforts are archived in the Schomburg Center’s #Syllabus web archive collection.
#TransJusticeSyllabus, Sociologists for Trans Justice – web archive
#BlackTransLivesMatter: Actions and Resources for Solidarity – web archive
#PulseOrlandoSyllabus – web archive
Anti-Trans Bills Teach In—Public Syllabus – web archive
Due to sexual orientation-based discrimination, members of the LGBTQIA+ community disproportionately struggle with economic hardships. This can force members of the community into lower-paid, and often unsafe lines of work. Two archival collections show this struggle for better, fairer wages, and creative ways that the community banded together to help.
First, in the SAGE Harlem Legend in My Living
Shelley Montrose transcript
Room transcripts, Shelley Montrose discusses participating in strikes and walking out on the job for equal pay. “I know gentlemen were paid more,” she said.
“Right now we’re in the capitalist environment and we need money. We need money to live. Need money to get married. Need money for everything. You need money.” During the interview, she expressed that she was encouraged by the collective action of her co-workers and her community because they were able to enact real change through more equitable payment practices.
Rent Party to benefit Stormé DeLarverie flyer
In the Stormé DeLarverie papers, there is evidence of DeLarverie being harassed by the Chelsea Hotel because she was unable to pay her rent on time. In this case, her community banded together to throw her a Rent Party on Tuesday, December 21, 1997 at the Rubyfruit Bar and Grill. SAGE, (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) along with several other organizations and elected officials sponsored the event on DeLarverie’s behalf. Through this archival collection are a mass of letters from the LGBTQIA+ community speaking to DeLarverie’s role as a community elder, talented performer, and person in desperate need of compassion. The collection focuses on her later years documenting tribute concerts, awards she was presented with, book chapters she was mentioned in, and even her leather jacket and motorcycle helmet.
Rights of the LGBTQIA Community
We celebrate Pride month to remember the battles we have won, and those we continue to fight. The Jamaica Gay Freedom Movement was founded in 1977 as the first publicly gay organization in Jamaica and one of the first gay rights organizations in the Caribbean. Its records include two documents that spell out some important facts to carry with us as we celebrate.
The Gay Freedom Movement Fact Sheet highlights facts about the LGBTQIA+ community that, while simple, are sometimes forgotten by people we interact with, including “Gay people are normal, healthy people,” and “Gay people are moral, constructive, law-abiding citizens,” and “Gay people are just like everybody else.” The purpose of the fact sheet was to educate people and create pathways for acceptance.
Gay Freedom Movement Fact Sheet
Gay Rights are Human Rights
The second document, Gay Rights are Human Rights, was created to celebrate International Gay Pride Week (June 21–27), and to remind people that “As members of the human family, we are entitled to the same fundamental rights accorded [to] other human beings.”
To learn more about Black LGBTQIA+ individuals and organizations at the Schomburg, view our research guide, Exploring Black LGBTQ Studies in the Schomburg Center's Archive.
Other relevant archives worth exploring:
Joseph Beam PapersIn The Life ArchiveBill Gunn PapersJewelle Gomez papers