The LGBTQ Storytelling Project collects oral histories for preservation and for research
A community's legacy is shared through its stories, and Pride Month, recognized every June, reminds us of the importance of recognizing and honoring the history and achievements of the LGBTQ community. The University is doing its part to preserve those stories through the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project – a digital oral history collection that is part of the Arizona Queer Archives.
"It's an important way to collect narratives of everyday people who represent the LGBTQ community," said Verónica Reyes-Escudero, the Katheryne B. Willock Head of Special Collections. "When we do oral histories like this, it helps us to build a relationship with those individuals. It's important to them to know there is a resource to collect and preserve important narratives of the community."
The project was founded in 2008 by Jamie A. Lee, an associate professor in the School of Information, to record and commemorate the voices, images and memories of everyday LGBTQ people living in Arizona. The effort aims to preserve stories of the community's historical moments and movements, struggles and triumphs.
The stories span the decades, with the experiences of the storytellers being as diverse as the LGBTQ community itself.
In his interview, Thomas Waddelow, a World War II veteran who spent much of his life in Tucson, discussed the first time he came out in 1959, ahead of a trip around the world with his friend, Don, who would later become his partner.
"I said, 'Before this trip gets any further along – and we can easily back out – I want you to know I'm gay,'" Waddelow recalled. "I said that to him, which is the first time I'd ever said it to anybody, including pretty much to myself. I'd figured it out, but it took me a long, long time. He turned and said, 'Well, I am too.'"
Eve Rifkin, a gay woman who was one of the co-founders of City High School in Tucson, discussed coming out to her mother in the late 1990s, around the time that gay student Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming.
"My mother was afraid for my personal safety, and ... she was concerned that I was not going to be able to have the normal life with a family," Rifkin said. "She knew that having a family was going to be important to me and she was just worried that I wasn't going to be able to have the normal family life that she knew I wanted. But she was supportive of my coming out."
Since the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project is its cornerstone collection, Arizona Queer Archives wants to keep it growing. Anyone looking to learn how to create and record a storytelling interview can request a workshop covering topics including writing questions, conducting interviews and using digital recording equipment.
Founded in 2011 by Lee, the Arizona Queer Archives is a community-based archive and ongoing research initiative through the University's Institute for LGBT Studies. The archives are housed in University Libraries Special Collections, which is located next door to the Main Library.
The collection has plenty to offer researchers, Reyes-Escudero said.
"People who are researching gay rights and key figures in the gay rights movement or are searching for grants that are available to them can find answers here," she said.
Over the summer, the archives are available for viewing by appointment only. Anyone interested can email Reyes-Escudero at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Special Collections website for more information.
You can read more about the Arizona Queer Archives in a story on the University's news website.
LGBTQ-related resources available to employees are listed below.
- OUTReach (a networking organization for LGBTQ faculty, staff and graduate students).
- Institute for LGBT Studies.
- Pronoun Guidance from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
- Safe Zone Training to become a stronger resource and ally to LGBTQ students.