Q & A: LGBTQ+ Archive Workshop

A Fall 2020 Women and Gender Studies course at UW-Green Bay is focused on developing an archival collection of interviews and materials from the LGBTQ+ community in northeast Wisconsin. The first half of the course introduces students to LGBTQ+ history through essays and oral history interview. They learn about why oral history, in particular, has been so important to the construction of LGBTQ archives. The second half of the class is focused on developing the LGBTQ+ collection at the UW-Green Bay Archives. Some students have conducted their own interviews of community members. Others have worked with records and other materials that have been deposited at Cofrin. One student is investigating queer artists from northeast Wisconsin. Each student’s research contributes to the collection.

We interviewed some of the people involved in the course about its creation, the work they have done so far, and plans for the future.

Kim, where did the idea for this class and this project come from? What inspired it?

Kim: Alums Kayla Probst and Abbie Wagaman approached me about doing an independent study in Fall 2019. They wanted to learn more about LGBTQ+ history and to conduct interviews with member of the LGBTQ community about their coming out stories. I was excited to work with them, because although I teach some LGBTQ+ history in my History of Sexuality class, this was an opportunity to teach the topic in greater depth. Kayla and Abbie had already connected with Deb Anderson about the possibility of depositing the interviews at Cofrin. So we embarked on this exciting collaboration.

Abbie and Kayla, you were involved in this project early on when it was an independent study, right?  Tell me about that experience.

Abbie: This project actually started with Kayla and I wanting to do an independent study with Kim Reilly. Both of us knew that we wanted to do some sort of research in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, as we both identify within it. After being prompted by Kim to try and think of things that were “missing” or not being highlighted in the LGBTQ+ community (from a research perspective), we decided to focus on LGBTQ+ Coming Out stories of rural Wisconsin. A lot of queer voices are silenced in less urban areas, so we wanted to give a voice to those who may not have been able to previously share their story. Not only did we see an underrepresentation of rural queer voices, we also wanted to look at this from a historical perspective.  In order to capture this, we limited our participants to those over a certain age (I think it was 35? I don’t quite remember what the exact number that was set), so we can see the kind of experiences of those growing up in a time period where sexuality wasn’t often talked about. 

Kayla: Abbie and I both wanted to do an independent study with Professor Reilly our final year at UWGB and we both wanted to do something surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. We decided that there was a lack of research and understanding in regards to the coming out process and more specifically the stories of rural LGBTQ+ people were almost unheard of. We wanted to make sure that these stories could be heard and we worked with both Deb and Professor Reilly to create the entire interview process and even conduct a few of those interviews ourselves.

What’s it like to see that work lead to the creation of a class.

Abbie: Very, very exciting. It only means that more people will become familiar with LGBTQ+ voices and struggles. Kim is an amazing faculty member who I look up to in a lot of aspects; I know she will do AMAZING in teaching this class, and I am so thankful that she gave me the opportunity to start something so large. 

Kayla: It was extremely gratifying knowing that our work would be continued by not just those completing an independent study, but by those in an actual course that UWGB now offers. Professor Reilly and Deb worked really hard to make sure that these stories don’t continue to go unheard and that the voices of those in this community are amplified. I am so grateful that Abbie and I were able to lay the foundation for this course and I hope it remains at UWGB for years to come.

Alax, Cassee, and Hunter you are currently in the class. What interested you about this class and what’s the class been like so far?

Alax:  For me learning about LGBT history was the main draw of this class as I consider myself to be a part of the community. So far the class has lead to some great findings and discussions of material with open minded classmates. 

Cassee: Honestly, what interested me about the class was hearing about the histories of the LGBTQ+ community, as it’s something (even as a member of the community) that people don’t hear about. This is especially true for the Midwest. As a young queer person, whenever I heard about any LGBTQ+ history, it would be focused on the coasts, not in this region. That, with the fears of discrimination, can lead someone to feel like there’s no LGBTQ+ movements or history here. But with this class, it not only takes a good look at theories about LGBTQ+ archiving and history, but at the history for that community in Northwest Wisconsin. The projects we are working really let us know about the queer history in the area, which is a comfort to see that LGBTQ+ communities can exist outside of places like San Francisco.

Hunter: Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community myself I have always really liked learning about the culture and the history that so often gets untold. One of the first things that caught my attention to the class was that it was specifically about LGBTQ+ culture along with being able to be a part of something rather new and exciting. As an activist, I am always looking for more ways to branch out into the community and be able to not only get my name out there but also be a voice for the community. This class is one way that I can do that because it has offered me the opportunities and resources to go out and find people who can share their stories of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The class has been full of great and lengthy discussions based around the historical side of the LGBTQ+ community and what has lead up to our current situation in the community. Not only that but now we are moving further into the research aspect of the class where we are literally going out and actively trying to find more information and people to add to our hopefully ever-growing LGBTQ+ archives.

What’s it like to know that the work you’re doing in the classroom has such a far reaching impact? 

Alax: Honestly it’s great to know the impact my work is making. Growing up I didn’t have the language to understand my identity and if I can be a part of the ever growing available information to queer youth then I am proud to do every bit I can.

Cassee: It’s strange (in a good way) to think that what we are doing has an impact. I’m so used to what I am learning and doing being theoretical and not going any farther than the classroom itself. But with this class, what we are doing is expanding not only history, but a history that is often overlooked.

Hunter: I am honestly so excited about this project and the impact it will not only have on our community in Green Bay but also across the whole state as well. I often have felt that there needs to be more representation of the community throughout Wisconsin and this is definitely a step in the right direction. I have been a huge activist for equality over the past six years of my life, protesting for safer schools, petitioning for transgender and gender-nonconforming inclusivity, and most recently in the BLM movement. This is just another step for me to continue on being a vocal activist for what I believe in and I am so grateful that I get to be a part of this!

Debra, what do you think this project means to the broader community?

Deb: The creation of a Northeastern Wisconsin LGBTQ+ Archives collection is significant to our broader
community for many reasons. It has allowed us to create a rich historical and personal narrative of
voices that have been traditionally silent in the Archives. The collection of archival materials and oral
history interviews will allow the Archives to more accurately reflect individuals of the region. The best
way to understand the past is to see yourself reflected in the historical record which is what we hope
individuals will discover when they use the Northeastern Wisconsin LGBTQ+ Archives Collection.
On a broader level, the project has fostered relationships with individuals, businesses, and organizations
within the LGBTQ+ community. Through these connections we are discovering and documenting the
important roles our region has in the wider LGBTQ+ Wisconsin story

What have been some of the challenges so far?

Deb: The challenges faced by the project are like those found with many new initiatives: garnering support, finding partners, and sharing our vision with others. Another challenge at times has been finding
individuals willing to share their stories and personal experiences. We have also had to adapt to the
types of materials that are often included in the collections. For example, we have had to find a way to
archivally preserve matchbooks, t-shirts, and leather posters! Not the typical fare for an archives
collection but valuable for this project.

Kim and Debra, it sounds like you plan for this class and this project to be ongoing. What direction do you see it going over the next few years

Kim: Yes, I plan to teach this class in the future and to continue to work with Deb on developing this collection of materials. It’s a truly a truly innovative collaboration in a number of ways. From the classroom side, our students are developing an important archive that will help tell the story of LGBTQ+ history in northeast Wisconsin. It also breaks ground within the field of LGBTQ history, because it helps to dispel the myth that the community only existed in large cities like Milwaukee or Chicago. And it enables LGBTQ+ community members to tell their own stories, which will have a lasting effect on future research.

Deb: In the future, I would like to see the archival collections and oral history interviews grow. In the end, I
hope to personalize Northeastern Wisconsin’s LGBTQ+ historical narrative with these rich resources by
making them widely available to the community and researchers. I envision relationships with local
organizations, community members, alums as well as engagement with UWGB faculty and students.
I anticipate continued partnerships with academic programs and courses which will foster amazing high
impact experiences for our students while growing the collection at the same time.

Some of the first LGBTQ+ Archival collections that were recieved.

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