Reflections on Working in a Community Archives During a Pandemic

by Gabrielle Garcia
Published April 16, 2021**

There’s something particularly chilling about handling memorial objects for local loved ones who had passed from HIV/AIDS while living through a devastating pandemic where the same government negligence continues to exacerbate human loss. 

Inventorying and handling these objects are a gentle and deliberate ceremony. Each one is touched with care and viewed with focused intention. As a 23 year old lesbian, these physical memories are a solemn reminder of the generation of LGBTQ community members we have lost to HIV/AIDS. I see an individual who was born the same year as my mother and my heart aches for this life and all these lives that had been cut so tragically short. There is so much grief and love to be held. In a country sacked by the coronavirus pandemic with 300,000+ deaths within less than a year, the pain is an unbearable weight. 

On the other hand, there is anger swirling inside me, because similar issues—a for-profit healthcare system, severely lacking public program infrastructure, and government and economic systems that choose profit over human life—are STILL bearing their full force on the most marginalized, leading to countless preventable deaths. The scapegoating within the derogatory euphemisms, “gay disease” and “China virus” are emblematic of the common theme of dehumanization in governmental and societal reactions to both viruses. At the same time, it’s crucial to remember how the Ronald Reagan administration did not publicly acknowledge the existence of AIDS until 4 years after the epidemic in the US began and how many people with AIDS were denied medical care (both related to and unrelated to their AIDS diagnosis)1 or provided less favorable treatment due to homophobia and transphobia.  

I’m grateful that Lambda Archives has been able to house these crucial items and memories.2 If we don’t archive our stories, histories, and memories…who will? The transmission of knowledge, memory, and joy between different generations of LGBTQ folks is of utmost importance for our survival, connection, and health. There are many lessons to be learned from past and present AIDS activism and organizing, including the formation of mutual aid networks and support systems that continue to blossom now. 

In addition to my powerful interactions with HIV/AIDS related materials, taking inventory of other items in the California State Library (CSL) Project has also been an emotional experience during the pandemic. Coming across an intimate Sinister Wisdom poster3 stirred up feelings of longing that have been a gnawing thorn in an era of necessary social distancing. At the same time, seeing a poster for a 1990’s lecture by Angela Davis at UCSD4 made me reflect on the continued importance of her abolitionist, anti-racist work today, having not too long ago finished reading her books, Are Prisons Obsolete? and Freedom is a Constant Struggle


Encountering materials from local LGBTQ bars and theaters, such as Diversionary Theatre and The Flame Nightclub, are reminders of the physical gathering spaces that have been restricted or otherwise lost to us. The case of The Flame, which had been shut down years ago and is now being turned into apartments, is a stark reminder of the dwindling number of lesbian/queer womxn’s bars in the United States and the danger they are in during these pandemic times. There are 15 such bars left.5 Gossip Grill is presently San Diego’s (and California’s) only lesbian bar and is one of the two remaining lesbian bars on the west coast. Being able to access such a space (prior to COVID-19) as a young adult has brought me closer to my local community and allowed me to confidently explore my butchness and my lesbianism. 

While my role as a Project Assistant at LASD has only just begun, I have deeply experienced the archives’ emotional and educational potency. I look forward to learning more about the materials I’ve encountered so far and the many more in the collections. A key lesson that emerges from this early experience is that archives must have continuous connections with the local community. Even in our socially distanced and crisis-filled present, we must actively cultivate our relationships and forge anti-racist and anti-oppressive community.

Prompts
1. If you’ve read Are Prisons Obsolete? and/or Freedom is a Constant Struggle, what are your thoughts on the connection between their contents and memory work and archives?
2. What LGBTQ spaces have you been missing in these pandemic times?

Please either comment your thoughts below or email ggarcia@lambdaarchives.org.


**This blog post was written in December 2020 and refers to an earlier stage of the CSL project.
1 A local example of this was the case of Robert Walsh who was unfairly denied care from a chiropractor due to his HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Footage of his deposition for the lawsuit against this discrimination can be found here: https://calisphere.org/item/80da03501e172b348317137434ddaea5/
2 While writing this, my project manager, Dana, informed me of a notebook in Lambda Archives’ collection belonging to Gary Cheatham (L2015.11), which contains information about the people with AIDS that Gary took care of before he himself passed from AIDS-related complications. I’m filled with an eagerness to view such a precious item and learn about the lives it contains, but also an anticipating ache in response to the emotional weight of this haunting memory.
3 L2014.01. Sinister Wisdom is a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal established in 1976. http://sinisterwisdom.org/.
4 L2011.13. Vertez Burks Collection, Lambda Archives of San Diego.
5 https://www.lesbianbarproject.com/the-15-bars-home.


Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.

A Reflection on Native American Intellectual Property Issues

by Gabrielle Garcia
Published April 14, 2021

***

After watching the “Native American Intellectual Property Issues” webinar, the fourth in a five-part series regarding the Protocols of Native American Materials, several themes from the discussion between the speakers from the Passamaquoddy People Project stood out to me:

  1. Trust building and engagement with communities of origin
  2. Communities of origin being formally recognized as intellectual property rights owners and dictating use and attribution protocols
  3. The power of collections when accessible to and interacted with by communities of origin

These three themes are particularly relevant to the work being done at Lambda Archives with materials relating to San Diego’s LGBTQ community. While the concepts noted above are translatable to a variety of communities, it’s important to note that the Indigenous specificity discussed in the webinar does not directly apply to non-indigenous minority communities in the so-called United States. The central concept of community trust helps to destabilize capitalist and colonial notions of hierarchy, ownership, and privatization that have been embedded in library and archival institutions in this country.

While trust building is vital for all library and archival institutions, it is especially key to a community archives that focuses on an underrepresented group. For the case of San Diego’s LGBTQ community—consisting of a variety of people from different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds—trust building must extend to the most marginalized community members: Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, poor and low income folks, folks experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and their many intersections. Trust building for LASD could look like specific intellectual property rights attribution and use protocols made in collaboration with community members, having Spanish (and/or other relevant local languages) translations available for English materials or making materials in non-English languages more accessible, incorporating community input on metadata and finding aids for materials, among other methods. Maintaining these relationships over time and generations strengthens community trust and continuity, especially with the evolution of LGBTQ terminology over the past several decades alone.

Allowing communities of origin to dictate cultural protocols and have intellectual property rights over their materials both disrupts colonial standards and uses present copyright laws intentionally in favor of communities that these laws typically disenfranchise. I believe incorporating cultural protocols brings discourse concerning the use, legacy, and existence of copyright laws to the forefront, especially now when the concept of abolishing damaging state institutions is gaining more prominence and awareness. 

All these trust building efforts allow for more powerful and intimate interactions by community members with collections. When community members have historically been denied their history and culture through erasure, exclusion, and fabrication, engaging with cultural and historical materials generates deeper connection. Speaking from my personal experience as a Cuban-American lesbian, interacting with lesbian-related materials from the archives—and discovering a poster that focused on supporting Cuban lesbians who left imprisonment in Cuba only to be incarcerated in the US—brought me an intimate joy and strengthened my link to my community. While my experience is only one example, the Archives has the potential to truly cultivate intra-community bonds and life-saving connections. Representation—not in the lofty sense of media representation—by and for community members in the preservation of history and culture has the power to combat damaging colonial and capitalist erasure and exploitation.


Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.

Whitewashing Stonewall: Reflections on Racism in the LGBTQ Community

by Gabrielle Garcia, Project Assistant
Published April 12, 2021

[ Trigger warning for discussions of antisemitism, racism, ableism, and Nazism ]

***

While inventorying materials for the California State Library (CSL) Project, I sorted through a selection of large LGBTQ pride-related posters throughout the decades and the world, coming across a Decades of Pride 1969-1989: Celebrating the Stonewall Uprising poster created for the Los Angeles Pride of 1989 (above left).1 For a poster commemorating the Stonewall Uprising—an event led by Black and brown queer and trans folks in response to homophobic, transphobic, racist, and classist police violence—there’s a lack of color in more than one way. In the poster are two white, cisgender, conventionally attractive and fit caricatures of a gay man and a lesbian sitting upon a Greek pedestal in matching white athletic clothing. The lesbian is holding up an upside down triangle, which likely references the reclamation of the (pink) triangle used in Nazi concentration camp badge coding systems (see categorization below2) as a symbol of the LGBTQ community.

Upon seeing this poster, I was immediately reminded of propaganda posters that portray the Nazi’s racist and eugenics-oriented ideal blond and blue eyed men and women. After a web search of such posters, I found the one above on the right, solidifying my discomfort with the Pride poster. The similarities between the two objects are uncanny: the outfits, the fitness caliber, the blond hair. The Decades of Pride poster has an Americanized aesthetic lens, especially evident in the man’s muscle mass and military-type haircut. Additionally, the use of the upside down triangle (especially without color pink) in relation to these white blonde caricatures comes off as insensitive and antisimetic. The poster’s focus on whiteness as representing LGBTQ pride alienates community members of color, folks of different sizes and disabilities, and Jewish people. 

On the other hand, it would be careless not to discuss the Greek podium the two individuals in the poster are sitting on, and the prominent use of Greek symbols, history, etc. in larger (white) LGBTQ culture in relation to white supermacist use of Greek art, imagery, and classics. This poster was not the first in the collection where I had seen Greek art or other classical cultural references being used in relation to the LGBTQ community. Personally, I see this connection as intending to link homosexuality to an older cultural history as a response to homophobic assertions that insist otherwise. However, Greek art and imagery has also been co-opted as symbols of whiteness and white supremacy by fascists, from the Nazi Party to America’s present day Alt-Right. For instance, Adolf Hitler thoroughly believed that Greek and Roman art was “uncontaminated by Jewish influences,”3 while the Alt-Right use Greek classics to insist that “white men are the guardians of intellectual authority, especially when such authority is perceived to be under threat from women and people of color.”4 Although the intentions are different, overlap between these meanings can occur in regards to racism. Racist LGBTQ people exist. We have seen this from Grindr bios to gay and trans Republicans and Trump supporters. 

I draw these comparisons to address the legacies and continued presence of racism and anti-Blackness in LGBTQ communities in the United States. Aesthetic and artistic choices are influenced by ideology. There are no neutral objects or choices. These comparisons are made not to diminish the persecution of LGBTQ people by Nazis and other fascists, but to acknowledge that sexuality and gender do not negate racism, ableism, classism, antisemitism, and others axises of oppression. And for an event like Pride, which is intended to celebrate all LGBTQ folks and the revolutionary legacy of the Stonewall Uprising, using a poster that harbors violent constructions of whiteness harms the community’s most vulnerable members. This hypocrisy is especially evident in a culturally diverse and liberal-leaning city like Los Angeles. If we as a community want to genuinely take pride, we must be critical of and accountable for the expressions of systemic oppression and prejudice that exists among us.


1 [Accession Number forthcoming], Lambda Archives of San Diego.
2 Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_concentration_camp_badge and created by Wikipedia.
3 Henry Grosshans, Hitler and the Artists (1983), 86. 
4 Donna Zuckerberg, “How the Alt-Right Is Weaponizing the Classics”, Medium, October 15, 2018, https://gen.medium.com/how-the-alt-right-is-weaponizing-the-classics-d4c1c8dfcb73.


Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.