“Hi Mr./Mrs./Mx _______ my name is Joshua Burford from UNCC. I am calling to ask if you would be interested in donating to our local LGBTQ archive”
“Hey there, I have heard about your project and am thrilled that you thought of me. I would love to help out and here are 10 more people you should call”
(Good feelings all around, my day is nice).
Recently in my searching for items for the archive I was granted access to the “homosexual” file from our local newspaper. I had heard rumor of this file from several people and was so pleased when their archivist said that I could have it for a time to see what might be useful for the project.
I was not ready for the “homosexual” file. I was not ready for the piles of clippings going back to the 50s, of seeing myself in those stories, of reading *Alternate Subject Headings: Sex Offender. I was excited to read about Gay Liberation happening at UNCC in 1975 (visits from Barbara Gittings and Frank Kamney). I was thrilled to read a poll that showed most people felt it was time to accept Gay folks into the community without restraint in the late 70s.
I was not ready for the list of names of the dead. Men and women and Trans people and Gay and Queer people dead in a matter of fact way with details about where they were found and how they died. I was not ready for reading those names and crying in my apartment because it was possible that I was the first person in a really long time (outside of their family) that read those names and wonder who they were. I wasn’t ready to have a person simplified to “local homosexual/female impersonator found dead.” I was not ready for the crushing weight of responsibility I felt to move beyond simply collecting and to start finding. Finding their truth and who they loved, finding their history and how they lived. I want so much for their lives to not be defined by their death but by who they were.
History teaches us that there are no new things under the sun, only patterns of how we behave. I am not surprised by what I have found so far, but I am convicted. I know that what I am doing now is in investment in our future here in Queer Charlotte, but I want so much more now than before. I see new purpose in old dusty clippings. I want to be ready for the next “homosexual file” I come across and to use it to inspire my own future by shining a light clearly on our past. I want my own name in the next “Queer radical” file to be attached to a story about a guy who saw the complexity of the past and present and whose life was spent both collecting and making visible all of who we are and possibly will be. Future archivists look for me in that file and know that I tried to leave something for each of you that would make you smile (and perhaps cry a little) in some Queer future I can’t even imagine yet.