Pride Month: Collections and Community

Posted on June 30, 2020

In celebration of Pride Month, discover collections, some accessible right now on the W&M Digital Archive, that highlight community and peer LGBTQ+ organizations.

The LGBTQ+ experience is anything but singular, yet one common thread is the perseverance and compassion of community. As a reflection and record of lived experiences, an archive can reveal layers of the broad LGBTQ+ spectrum through individual and group narratives that depict a diversity of lives that overlap, complement, and collide. 

Excerpt from pamphlet invitation. Blue text on a white background with yellow accents lists the services offered through the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Lesbian Services Program.
List of services provided by Whitman-Walker Clinic's Lesbian Services Program, Gay and Lesbian Archives (MS 00043).

Pride Month is an annual celebration for the self-affirmation, visibility, and liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. Increased representation and equality for the LGBTQ+ community is in large part thanks to the activism and protest of Black queer and trans individuals and other people of color. Pride month would not exist without the determination and courage of Black queer and trans folks, like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major at the 1969 Stonewall riots, and we celebrate in the honor and memory of their community and activism. For individuals whose identities situate themselves along multiple points of oppression, community-building and peer organizations can provide trust and support where systems of government and healthcare often fail. 

The Gay and Lesbian Archives (MS 00043), a collection of letters, pamphlets, and ephemera donated by the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Falls Church, Virginia, documents one such community organization, the Whitman-Walker Clinic. A 1992 invitation to the clinic’s second birthday celebration describes the organization’s services around the Washington, DC region. The clinic’s Lesbian Services Program includes a Black lesbian support group, HIV services, a counseling center, and a family planning project. Health organizations catered to marginalized communities understand the importance of accurate, comprehensive, and nonjudgmental healthcare. Here, the Whitman-Walker Clinic takes pride in another year of operation, celebrating the long-term benefits of access to inclusive and understanding healthcare.

Handwritten flyer (on neon green paper) from the Gay Student Union announcing a candlelight vigil on the Sunken Garden in remembrance of those who have died due to homophobia.
Flyer, circa 1995, from the Gay Student Union, announcing a candlelight vigil on the Sunken Garden, Student Organizations Collection (UA 7.047).

Digitized collections accessible on the W&M Digital Archive relate the history and activism of community and campus organizations closer to home. Fliers and announcements from the Gay Student Union, a former campus student organization, promote social and education events, including regular meetings, Coming Out Day activities, and W&M’s annual Pride Week celebration. A handwritten flier, circa 1995, announces a candlelight vigil on the Sunken Garden with the following message: “As long as there are people being persecuted for who they love, none of us are free. Homophobia hurts us all.” This recalls Martin Luther King’s famous quote, “No one is free until we are all free,” a message that is emphasized today by LGBTQ+ people of color.

A 1997 flyer from the W&M Lesbian & Gay Law Association advertises a presentation at the Law School by Chai Feldblum, now the Commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This proposed federal bill sought to end employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, then legal in 41 states. Twenty-three years later, in 2020, the Supreme Court has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects Americans from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Comparing the 1997 flier to the recent Supreme Court ruling emphasizes the perseverance needed to advocate for meaningful change and the evolution of the advocacy itself. In 1997, the conversation was about discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the 2020 ruling likewise protects against gender identity discrimination. This distinction marks increased visibility and rights for trans and gender nonconforming individuals and a union between two different but similar causes.

Pink flier which announces Feldblum's speaking engagement at the W&M Law School in black text.
Chai Feldblum speaks on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, 1997, Student Organizations Collection (UA 7.047).

The Stephens Project, established in memory of Stephen H. Snell and Stephen E. Patrick, is a long-term oral history project at Special Collections that seeks to document the lives of William & Mary LGBTQ+  alumni, faculty, staff, and students in their own unfiltered voices. The project is thanks to the support and initiative of GALA, W&M’s LGBTQ+ alumni affinity group, and contains dozens of oral histories, some of which are accessible on the W&M Digital Archive in audio or transcription format.

As Pride Month comes to a close, we hope you use our digital collections to learn more about the broad history of LGBTQ+ lives—at all times of the year. No one source can capture the whole of the LGBTQ+ experience, but cumulatively, they begin to tell stories of resilience, courage, and community that intertwine and illuminate.

Typed white flyer announces events occurring during W&M's annual Pride Week, 2001, including a Day of Silence for those coerced into silence due to LGBTQ discrimination, and a discussion on Xena: Warrior Princess.
Pride Week at William & Mary, 2001, Student Organizations Collection (UA 7.047).
Pink, handwritten flyer announcing the first meeting of the W&M Gay Student Union for the fall 1997 semester.
"DISCUSSION, FOOD, MOVIE!" promises a flyer announcing the first annual meeting of the W&M Gay Student Union, September 1997, Student Organizations Collection (UA 7.047).

Resources and More to Explore: