In 2016, a College of Charleston graduate student walked into Special Collections searching for resources on local LGBTQ history. Instead of emailing quietly or asking discreetly as most had in the past, she loudly voiced her belief that, certainly, a library, reflecting no bias against any group, would have such holdings. Realizing we did not was the spark that led to our grant application to the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation for endangered archives. It was easy to argue that LGBTQ history in the Lowcountry was (and still is) in danger of disappearing. The subject never had been a priority for any library or archives; and the stories of older members of the community were (and are) dying with them. If anything survives, oftentimes, family members destroy evidence of their lives.
With grant funding now unfortunately running out, we are working against the clock to save evidence of an imperiled past as well as a vibrant present. We have developed a two-pronged program: oral histories and archives. We record oral history interviews and collect documentary evidence never before thought valuable: letters, photographs, manuscripts, digital files and all sorts of other materials that prove LGBTQ people have always been here and have consistently worked against prejudice to shape the life and culture of the Lowcountry.
Long before the European conquest, LGBTQ people were native to the area; records suggest at least one gay man was on the first English ship of colonists. But because of strict laws punishing them, laws extending into the 21st century, most LGBTQ people hid their identities and erased their presence. Now we are reversing the trend with our research, in our collecting, and our supporting College course work and that of scholars across the country. Through purchases and gifts, our archives now has materials documenting a possible intersex individual who lived in Charleston before the Civil War; the papers of important LGBTQ cultural leaders, including some who lived on what is now the College campus; as well as materials documenting out men and women who ran for statewide and national political office, and those who helped shape the national discourse on LGBTQ rights. We're documenting organizations, too, active ones like the Alliance for Full Acceptance and We Are Family, and defunct ones like the Lowcountry Gay and Lesbian Alliance. To learn more about these collections click on the links above. To learn about additional collections and resources please visit our LibGuide.
As vitally important as the written record of a community is its oral one, handed down through time. For years, LGBTQ people were silenced, censored and written out of history. Our project records, transcribes, and posts interviews on the Lowcountry Digital Library. We are approaching 100 interviews with people of all ages, races, orientations, and identities. To listen to our interviews, view our oral history collection on the Lowcountry Digital Library.
Now when a student wants to do a paper on LGBTQ history, we are ready. When scholars want to document the local LGBTQ rights movement, we can help. If a struggling teen needs to believe that LGBTQ people can live here happily and proudly, and not just in faraway urban areas, we are here. Our visible and vocal presence on our campus, where more than 18% of our students self-identify as LGBTQ, has worked to help make history, and not just preserve it. The College now holds more forums for its LGBTQ students, sports more supportive signage, and participates in major events in the community like never before.
We are moving forward, proving our value by demonstrating LGBTQ contributions to all aspects of local life and culture, and affirming LGBTQ importance, visibility and inclusivity.
If you have archival materials you would like to discuss contributing, or if you have research questions, please contact Harlan Greene, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, 29424. Phone: 843.953.7428 or email: email@example.com.
Financial support is crucial. We have survived beyond our initial grant period thanks to generous donors like Linda Ketner and Harriet McDougal, as well as others. We thank all of those who have heeded the call.
Click to view a list of our donors. All contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Click to donate online. To donate by check, please make the check to the College of Charleston Foundation, with “LGBTQ Archive” in the memo section. Mail checks to Harlan Greene, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston, 66 George Street, Charleston, SC, 29424
Help sustain our program and an enduring LGBTQ presence by donating and contacting us now! Thank you!
Visit Go.CofC.edu/LGBTQ for campus and community resources.
The LGBTQ Archives in the News
Please visit link to a Post and Courier article about the project entitled, "Lack of funding jeopardizes future of Charleston’s only archive dedicated to LGBTQ history."
Please visit link to a Post and Courier article about the project entitled, "As Charleston area gay bars vanish, historian seeks help documenting their heyday."
Please visit link to a Post and Courier article about the project entitled, "New LGBTQ archive at College of Charleston receives grant to help document neglected era of history."
June 30, 2020
As 2020’s Pride Month comes to a close, we reflect on a month that brought generational injustices, modern day brutality, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia to the forefront of our national discourse in ways few have ever witnessed in their lifetimes.
Locally, we saw statues fall and deeply entrenched attitudes start to crack at their foundations. Why? Because of the brave leadership of black women who organized quickly and effectively the voices of the masses; who yelled until they had no voices and until they were heard. Their work is *our* work and there is still a staggering amount of work to be done.
LGBTQ+ history is history - it is black, brown, White, Puerto Rican, Asian and Indigenous. It is the complete story, the aggregate of our shared experiences and the unique outliers, evidence that no group is monolithic. No group wants more than equality, justice and to have their stories told, heard and preserved. We all want a seat at the table and many of us are willing to build our own chairs if necessary.
That is why the LGBTQ archive project is an essential project worthy of your financial gifts, commitments and estate planning. It is the only such archive in South Carolina.
By establishing a recurring, one time or promised gift of a percentage of your estate after your time here on earth, you are both supporting a critical area of need at The College and telling its leadership just how important we believe projects like this are and that they deserve full financial support from the institution.
Swipe right for one of the last evenings “The Garden and Gun Club” was open, where Africa took the stage and was pure entertainment. How lucky are we to get to peer into this part of Charleston history? THIS is why it is so essential that we give of our items to the archive, record oral histories for the project and to give funds that are needed to sustain these efforts into the future.
Happy Pride, Charleston!
- Taylor DeBartola Class of 2010