Out of the Archives
By Gabriela Serrano
How do we speak of LGBTQ+ histories and highlight the many legacies that have brought us to our contemporary historical moment? Undeniably, we must not perpetuate history as unfolding in a neat and singular fashion. To do so would be the rejection of our histories as culminations of contested facts that spur our complex narratives. On the other hand, to accept this enables us to utilize our histories as tools for change. When we affirm history as plural, as collections of simultaneously coincidental and conflicting stories, we acknowledge the multifaceted histories we are currently building and open up space for histories we have yet to know as intimately as the 1959 Cooper Donuts Riot, the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riot, and 1969’s legendary Stonewall riots.
It was this context, coupled with my interest to learn about LGBTQ+ histories in San Diego, which led me to volunteer at the Lambda Archives. After a few months I was privileged to be offered an intern position. This new role granted me a particular intimacy with the collections at the Archives. Tasked with cross-referencing the Archives’ inventories against themselves and against the collections housed on the shelves, I was able to see the depth and breadth the Archives has to offer.
Pouring over Lambda Archives’ collections was the catalyst for stumbling across information about many Gay and Lesbian groups organizing in Baja California, Tijuana, and San Diego. One such group was Grupo Orgullo Homosexual De Liberacion (GOHL): a homosexual group from Guadalajara, Mexico active during the 1980’s that fought for sexuality-based rights. A flyer created by GOHL announced a call to action urging folks to join a rally on July 23, 1983 to protest the unjust detention of 250 gays and lesbians and the closures of several homosexual bars and clubs by the Mexican Government.
A separate document put out by another group, Grupo De Lesbianas, declared a collective statement outlining how these Mexican Lesbian Feminists defined themselves and their movement. Together these materials highlight international solidarity and the importance of acknowledging how multiple marginalized identities influence LGBTQ+ organizing work.
Similarly, to try and identify the demographics of people who live in San Diego enables us to reframe our focus and trace the histories of communities thriving pre-settler colonial violence. There is an inherent political and historical responsibility to understand the histories of indigenous groups. Tom Lidot, a local indigenous activist, has an oral history at the Archives describing the formation of Nations of 4 Directions. This group served Two-Spirited Indigenous folks from eighteen reservations across the San Diego area. Being able to learn about Indigenous LGBTQ+ struggles allows us to complicate the political organizing histories here in San Diego.
It is in the same vein that encountering information on various publications of the late 70’s and 80’s centering black women/black lesbian communities is situated. A short list of a few of the publications noted include: Aché: The Bay Area’s Journal for Black Lesbians, The Black Scholar magazine, Matrix Mag, and Literary Xpress. To be able to unveil a glimpse of the literary scene for Black women/lesbians during a decade that was just beginning to confront the grievances of women of color presents an example of the ways communities advocate and support themselves. There are still many stories to be told, heard, and collectively remembered.
It is necessary to supplement the contents of the Lambda Archives with collections that emphasize Gender Non-Conforming communities, Intersex communities, Queer communities, LGBTQ+ Disabled communities, LGBTQ+ coalitional organizing, LGBTQ+ people of color grassroots/community organizing, trans elders, and so much more.
All this begs the question: how do we come to know our histories? What resources do we have to help us in that endeavor? Our communities are some of our most vital resources and carry with them our individual and collective lived experience. Even so, our own communities are not the only resources at our disposal. In San Diego/Southern California, Lambda Archives is one such resource. The Archives showcases San Diego specific LGBTQ+ communities and their histories. The space houses a myriad of collections, including a bisexual archive (in the LGBTQ+ spectrum the Bs are the most ignored and Lambda’s collection has more on bisexuals than most other archives in the U.S.); personal collections of prominent LGBTQ+ leaders; collections focused on LGBTQ+ events; and LGBTQ+ banner, button, and t-shirt collections.
The Archives holds collections of LGBTQ+ non-profits, collectives, business, and numerous LGBTQ+ oral histories which are accessible to the public online. Lambda Archives maintains an in-house LGBTQ+ library covering the genres of non-fiction, biography, fiction, education, academic, and more. Yet, what is most striking about the space is that it exists as a community-based entity, one of the few freestanding LGBTQ+ archives in country, unaffiliated with any institution; it started as a community effort and continues to exist as an open and available resource to the communities to which it sees itself accountable.
Lambda Archives thrives when the communities it labors to amplify continue to utilize it.
For more information, contact the archives: info@LambdaArchives.org or 619-260-1522.
— Lambda Archives, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to collecting, preserving and teaching the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in San Diego and the Northern Baja California region, is located at 4545 Park Blvd., in University Heights. To learn more, stop in or visit their website at lambdaarchives.org.