Documenting LGBTQ Life: About

Making History and Preserving History

In 2016, a College of Charleston grad student walked in to Special Collections and asked to see what we had on local gay history. Instead of emailing quietly or asking discreetly, this student assumed that the library would have collections documenting LGBTQ history. This was the spark that led to our grant application to the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly foundation for endangered archives. It was easy to show that LGBTQ history in the Lowcountry was in danger of disappearing. The stories of older generations died with them, and sometimes family members would destroy the evidence.

With our grant funding, we are developing our project in two directions: oral histories and archives. We're aiming for 100 oral histories, and have already interviewed over 20 community members, from organizational leaders to pastors and CofC alumni. And we're collecting documentary evidence that no one previously thought was worth collecting; proof that LGBTQ people have always been here, including letters, photographs, manuscripts, and digital files that tell the entire story of life in the Lowcountry.

We know LGBTQ have been part of our history since before European conquest. But where is the documentary proof? We are trying to fill the gaps in history. We have materials documenting a possible intersex individual who lived in Charleston before the Civil War, the papers of gay men who lived on the campus in the 1930s and 1940s, and materials from one of the first out people to run in a local election. We're documenting not only people but organizations, active ones like the Alliance for Full Acceptance and We Are Family, and defunct ones like the Lowcountry Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

In just about a year we have accumulated around 60 linear feet of information. Now when a student wants to do a paper on LGBTQ history, we are ready. When scholars want to document the LGBTQ rights movement here, we are able to help. And we are able to influence the College community. Since our project began, we have co-sponsored the first LGBTQ student welcome, hosted the first LGBTQ alumni event, and the library has purchased its first LGBTQ databases. Give us a few decades and there is no telling where we might be.

Linda Ketner has issued a $25,000 challenge grant that we are trying to match, so we can process and acquire more collections and record more oral histories. This is another step towards our goal of becoming a full-fledged, sustainable program that will continue to document LGBTQ history in the Lowcountry for years to come. Thank you to our generous donors who have made a commitment to preserving LGBTQ history for future generations. A full list of donors is available here.