Being LGBTQ in the Lowcountry

Origins

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.

 

Our Work

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.

 

Archival:

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 LGNTQ 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.

Oral Histories:

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.

 

Results

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.

 

Support

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: greeneh@cofc.edu.

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!

 

Resources

Visit Go.CofC.edu/LGBTQ for campus and community resources.

 

General inquiries

lgbtq@cofc.edu