Partnership in the Preservation of Rustbelt Queer History
Katie Madonna Lee, Catherine Page-Vanore, Alison Stankrauff
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community of the greater South Bend, Indiana, area has been gaining a collective voice in recent years, and a more widespread presence. The area known as Michiana—which includes the city of South Bend and adjoining communities in Indiana and nearby Michigan, spread along the St. Joseph River Valley—is a mix of urban and rural, with South Bend, the fourth largest city in the state of Indiana, at its heart. In its urban core, South Bend has a diverse population, with its outlying area being heavily agricultural. Michiana is a rustbelt community, with all the complicated meanings that identity has. Rustbelt cities have had to redefine themselves since the mid-twentieth century as neighborhoods break up their old orders and establish new ones, as Carlo Rotella notes.1 South Bend and several of the adjoining communities relied on heavy industry up until the mid-twentieth century, and have seen that base either trickle away or leave entirely. Studebaker auto manufacturing served as the flagship employer in the city; since its closing in 1963, the city of South Bend has seen a precipitous loss of jobs and infrastructure. South Bend and the rest of Michiana, like many other rustbelt communities, have had to reimagine themselves. South Bend is no different from other small-to-large rustbelt cities in that its history is marked by diversity, as older ethnic neighborhoods gave way to newer ethnic neighborhoods. From the very beginning, South Bend has had an LGBTQ community that has experienced its own changes through time, but its history has been, to date, undocumented. With the exception of an upcoming book on the lesbian history of South Bend,2 the community has yet to collect, document, or preserve this complex and critical set of stories.3
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The Michiana LGBTQ community is and has been vibrant; for example, among other gathering places, the Seahorse, the first openly gay bar in the area, is a center for support, entertainment, and organizing. However, the history of Midwestern LGBTQ individuals has been under-documented, leaving a serious gap not only in the broader historical narrative of the central United States but also of LGBTQ history in particular. Midwestern history is not given the attention that it deserves, and its marginalized populations are not documented as they ought to be. Midwestern citizens often articulate this “flyover state of mind” when they talk about the worth of their experiences. In the research for this article, many informants expressed surprise that anyone would be interested in interviewing them. This illustrates the institutional power of the archive: it legitimates and lends political force to individuals and communities. As Cheryl McEwan notes, “Individuals and nations are seeking to overcome their traumatic legacies through the establishment of historical truth and the creation of collective memory.”4
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 All too often, LGBTQ histories have focused on privileging the stories of large coastal cities and their communities. This can be noted in the finding aids in the Smithsonian’s LGBT Collection in their nearly complete omission of the stories of LGBTQ people in the Midwest or the South.5 While it is vitally important for these collections to exist, the work has been done mostly in New York City and San Francisco. These collections promote a narrative that the only sort of successful life one can have in the LGBTQ community is to leave one’s small hometown and make a new life in a big “gay mecca” on the coast. This narrative has been true for many people, certainly, but it is not the whole story of LGBTQ life in the United States. There is a conspicuous absence of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting materials associated with the LGBTQ communities of the Midwest, particularly in small cities and rural areas. And even more unfortunately, even museums at the state level may struggle to find the funding and staffing to make successful community connections and collect materials from all of the local LGBTQ communities they serve. It is critical that the voices and experiences of lesbians, gays, and transgender people across the Midwest are documented and made available. It contributes to a much larger narrative of people across the nation who share experiences and similar struggles. While the stories of Midwestern lesbian, gay, and transgender people are unique in many key ways, they share a wider national narrative, indeed. In coastal cities, particular narratives about gay life and culture have been well preserved and celebrated, and have become representative of the totality of gay life in the mind of country.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Many gay people find their dream communities by moving away from home to New York or San Francisco and joining the communities already there. But in blue-collar Michiana, there are nuances to LGBTQ life that do not fall under the umbrella of the bicoastal gay-lifestyle narrative. While there are overlapping issues, there are also distinct experiences and struggles. Creating an archive specific to Michiana provides a new way to think of and talk about LGBTQ people and their activism in the Midwest. While it is true that several prominent national museums have built or are building LGBTQ collections, they tend to focus on the well-trodden ground of major “gay meccas,” or have a broad national focus with a reach that, sadly, usually cannot grasp the entirety of nuances in communities like that of Michiana. For example, the GLBT History Museum,6 despite its seemingly inclusive name, only documents the history of the LGBTQ community of San Francisco. The Lesbian Herstory Archives,7 while a terrific institution and collection, has made the choice to collect the stories of women largely from the East and West Coasts. These are examples of institutions doing the important work to document the LGBTQ voice through time, but it is not whole if it does not represent the entire country, the Midwest and the South included.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Creating an archive here in the heartland at the local level of this community makes the history of LGBTQ people more encompassing and its voice more representative. The opportunity to address this very gap has been an exciting challenge for regional repositories like the Archives at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). Through the Civil Rights Heritage Center Collections of the IUSB Archives, we have begun to collect Michiana’s LGBTQ history.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Native South Bender Katie Madonna Lee noticed the gap in documenting Michiana’s LGBTQ community. The silence in the history that the Michiana community was keeping, creating, and documenting compelled Lee to do interviews with members of the LGBTQ community with the intent of giving them a voice and keeping their history for posterity. Lee thus set out to serve as a community archivist to represent the interests of the larger community in general and the LGBTQ community in particular. In January of 2014, Lee approached the curator of the Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) of Indiana University South Bend. The CRHC acts as a connection between the wider community and the IUSB campus, and social justice is at the core of its mission:8 The CRHC mission statement reads:
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) at Indiana University, South Bend, is committed to the advancement of civil rights and social justice research, education, and outreach, especially in the Michiana region. It fosters empirical and analytical research, sponsors student inquiry and activities and convenes faculty, visiting scholars, policy advocates and others to examine and discuss issues of importance to racial and ethnic minorities, to the poor, gays, and lesbians, and to other potential beneficiaries of civil rights advances. The CRHC’s programming work focuses on civil rights education, economic justice, and voting rights.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In the area of research. The CRHC is committed to detailing and documenting the local civil rights history of Northern Indiana, and Michiana, as part of the larger national narrative of Civil Rights Activism among African-Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups.9
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Indiana University South Bend is the only comprehensive public university in North Central Indiana and the third largest campus in the Indiana University system. Its Archives seek to document the whole of Michiana, per its statement on its website.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Housed in the Schurz Library, the Archives is the campus repository for papers, photographs, recordings, and memorabilia that document the history of IU South Bend, while it also provides a glimpse into the history of the greater Michiana area. Visitors to the Archives can, with the assistance of archives staff, explore the donated collections of notable community leaders, learn about South Bend’s Civil Rights movement, listen to oral histories, or examine a large collection of photographs. Also stored here are copies of faculty and student publications and student masters’ theses. In addition, the Archives office maintains the library’s rare materials collection.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Alison Stankrauff lends her archival expertise to the project to ensure that collection materials are properly handled, processed, and stored according to best archival practices. Lee uses her networking skills to seek out members of the LGBTQ community who might have stories, artifacts, or documents to share, and instills in them trust in the project and its aims. Both Lee and Stankrauff work together to recruit new volunteers, students, and researchers to collaborate on the project and push the processing of the collection closer to completion. Together, they demonstrate how community and institutional archivists complement each other and can learn from each other.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Together, this community archivist (Lee) and this institutional archivist (Stankrauff) created the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Collection at the Indiana University South Bend Archives. To date the bulk of its holdings are oral histories (thirty-five total)—mostly of gay men, as well as a couple of drag performers and activists in the area who are working to combat AIDS/HIV—plus one individual’s personal materials; those include local LAMBDA Society of Michiana newsletters, which are very rare and give detailed accounts of the struggle to organize locally in the 1970s in Michiana. Other items include the donor’s personal letters of correspondence with publishers from In Touch and Out magazines in the 1970s.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The documentation of Michiana’s LGBTQ community is creating an important archive that scholars, activists, and the general public can use. The LGBTQ collection at IUSB has already been a boon for students and local researchers on campus. One undergraduate student, Ben Wieland, did an extensive research project and spent hours with the LGBTQ collection doing primary and secondary research, as well as in the local history room at the St. Joseph County Library. Wineland spun that into a presentation for an undergraduate research conference, where he won Honorable Mention for his paper on LGBTQ history in Michiana. Bethy Williams has used the collection to support her writing of “‘I Don’t Want to be the Victim No More’: A Lesbian History of a Midwestern City 1974-Present.” The collection has also been brought out into the public for large-scale events such the 3rd Annual South Bend LGBTQ Pride Prom. Use of the collection will be further facilitated with its projected move to full digitization in 2017, and oral histories will be made accessible online with Library Services and Technology Act funding in 2014-2015. Access is being provided in stages, and students are already working with materials in class. Publishing a finding aid for the collection will only increase the collection’s impact. That goal is also scheduled for 2017.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Allowing community-based archives to enter into institutional archives supports the idea of documenting public history. It provides a safe and secure home for the histories of members of the community that have been pushed aside and grants them a voice within an institution. Additionally, community-based archives housed in institutions can facilitate research, while participants, donors, and/or those interviewed for oral histories can become a part of a wider public discourse. The very fact that oral histories provide the base of the LGBTQ collection may well link people who have not experienced or felt connected to history itself.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Stankrauff and Lee have worked together to blur the line between a community archive and an institutional archive. The connection that Lee made with Stankrauff was an important one. It not only bridged the gap between institutional and community history, but it marks just how important volunteers and interns are to the running of the Archives at Indiana University South Bend. The Archives is chronically underfunded, as many university’s archives are, and Stankrauff is the only archivist. She not only welcomed the LGBTQ collection to the Archives, but she also welcomed Lee’s generous offer to work with the collections once they were officially donated to the Archives—for free, no less. Collaborating with community archivists is a key opportunity that institutional archives ought to consider. Community archivists offer the beleaguered institutional archivist connections to portions of the community that a professional might not have the time or reach to access, as well as the added benefit of bringing their background and skill set into the institution. Volunteer community archivists give vitality and assistance that institutional archives and archivists greatly need.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The relationship between these two roles is highly symbiotic. Community archivists can help the institutional archivist through their passion for the documentation that they are doing, particularly if they come from that community. The institutional archivist can greatly benefit from this knowledge, enthusiasm, and flexibility by offering preservation supplies, digital recorders for oral histories, and space for the collections. The institutional archivist can also help give volunteer archivists support by offering them guidance with proper archival practice and procedures. The more knowledge volunteers have of appropriate archival best practices, the more work can be done on the collection. In other instances, when the community archivist has her own resources, the institutional archivist will benefit as well. Lee purchased her own recorder and printed her own release forms because she felt the regular office would slow the momentum of her workflow. The institution was relieved of some of the costs and the duty to provide these items quickly.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 The synchronicity of Lee and Stankrauff’s relationship allows each to focus on the work, and it eliminates the stress of politics that can affect workflow and morale. It allows Lee to be constantly motivated by the project. Similarly, Lee must answer to the donors and interviewees with whom she has built up trust. Lee’s creditability with the community is fragile, but it can be bolstered by bringing Stankrauff in when Lee is unable to answer a question thoroughly. Overall, the institution benefits from the community archivist’s relations with donors.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 One of the most important things to consider is just how important it is to have a mutually respectful relationship and understanding between the community archivist and the institutional archivist. Community archivists may not have professional training in archives, but their enthusiasm, connections, and knowledge of the community are richly complementary to the work of professional institutional archivists. It is incumbent upon the professionals in the situation to make the community archivist feel welcome, encouraged, and that their work is appreciated. The relationship between Lee and Stankrauff has been one of such mutual respect and mutual enthusiasm. Stankrauff also has made sure that Lee feels that she takes her collecting of oral histories seriously. They come together with their passion for collecting Michiana’s LGBTQ history.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 It is important to note how this relationship is maintained and prospers. For a successful partnership, the institutional archivist must have a welcoming and inclusive demeanor, much as a doctor must cultivate a bedside manner. Prior to linking up with IUSB Archives, Lee had toured other local museums, where the response from archivists and institutions was lukewarm. Lee noted that the archivists came off as professional yet cold, not engaging or expressing interest beyond their required duties. These disappointing experiences with other institution were not in vain, though, as they allowed Lee to fully appreciate and understand the specialness of the working relationship she and Stankrauff would ultimately develop. Given the scope of this project and its long-term needs, a “spark” and mutual respect—indeed an excitement for the material—are needed for the overall health and well-being of the collection. Of course, as in all relationships, there are kinks to work out. While in many ways their working relationship has gotten off to a great start, there have been small issues, such as Lee accepting some large donations that were bigger than the Archives could accommodate. That being said, both Lee and Stankrauff were well aware of the all-too-frequent compulsion of archives and museums to document a very narrow history—that of straight, white, wealthy males—with the occasional diversity exhibition held once a year, if at all.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 For this relationship to work, the institutional archivist must be willing to step out of their title and be human. Lee experienced how unsettling archive staff members who take their professional title too seriously can be. When Lee needed assistance with a donor, a staff member volunteered to help. Instead, the staff member showed disgust and an openly judgmental attitude towards the donor’s living situation when he was in the donor’s home. Lee felt she had failed to protect the donor and also felt disrespected by the staff member. After Lee alerted Stankrauff to the issue, she assisted Lee on the next trip, demonstrating proper manners and judgment-free professionalism. As a result, the collection was able to accumulate rare letters of the early LGBTQ activist movement in Michiana. When the relationship between community archivist and institutional archivist is maintained and developed, the collection will blossom and flourish.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Thinking more expansively about the mission of an institutional archive or a museum is a way to ensure the growth and health of that archive or museum. It requires the archivist or the museum professional to think of the community that she or he is serving and documenting in a comprehensive way, including its marginalized people, to make sure that their stories are told, preserved, and shared. Archivists and museum professionals must respond to how their communities are changing and realize that the community is not static. Collecting along these lines will guarantee that archives and museums are living and energized reflections of the whole community. Several community archives are “doing it right”; these institutions are driven by the very communities whose histories they are documenting. Examples include the Black Archives of Mid-America,10 particularly in their outreach events; the Urbana Free Library (Illinois) Local History Online site;11 the St. Louis Jewish Community Archive, in their strong community support;12 and the South Asian American Digital Archive,13 in the shear breadth of the themes of the materials available online, which are sorted and searchable by category.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 In addition, other institutions in Indiana are also pushing to collect and exhibit artifacts of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The Indiana State Library is in the early stages of collecting LGBTQ materials from around the state. In October of 2015, the Indiana Historical Society opened “A Visual Journey: From AIDS to Marriage Equality,” an exhibition that prominently features a collection of photographs by Mark A. Lee, an Indianapolis-based photographer who has been documenting gay life in central Indiana since the 1980s. Increasing documentation of LGBTQ life is becoming a trend for institutions across the state.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 While the benefits of collaboration between community and institutional archivists are real, there are still obstacles that must be taken into immediate consideration. The institutional archivist is limited by budgetary considerations, and may need to consider potential financial donors. At the IUSB Archives, no pockets of funding are directed at any one particular collection. Rather, Stankrauff receives general funding for part-time workers and supplies for all the collections. Already working on a stretched budget, with no extra resources or extra people, we are unable to hire a project archivist at the university, and the collection does not have the luxury of short-term funding for specific projects. That said, this project demonstrates the potential for success when relationships between the archive and potential donors are built face-to-face, one person at a time, by sheer force of personality and will. It banishes the excuse that “we don’t have a budget to talk about this minority community.” The connections made with the community are very real.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 The concept of the IUSB Archives as a “legitimizing” force for the LGBTQ community has less to do with advertising itself as an “authoritative” institution, and more to do with keeping the door open to the community, making a welcoming and inclusive place for a population that is both unfamiliar with archives and historically shunted to the fringes of society. To accomplish this, it is clear that the Archives must have superior customer-service skills. When this goal is reached, it does improve the self-esteem of members of the LGBTQ community. For instance, Tom Beatty has been a community activist since the late 1960s in South Bend, and he is on record with his enthusiastic support for the project. He noted that he wished this project had been undertaken sooner, but is glad that it is happening at all. “People need to know how hard it is. They just need to know.”14 Agreement about the importance of the project also helps ease some of the tensions within the community. Above all, these individuals want to be heard and listened to.
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Collecting marginalized histories and housing them in the same institution can also bring up new sets of issues. For example, some in the African American community have voiced that they did not want the LGBTQ collection included in the Civil Rights Heritage Center. That said, the African American community is not monolithic in South Bend, and is just as large and diverse as any; it does not share one general voice. Yet this perspective helps remind us that we must never assume that marginalized populations fall under one uniform struggle and share the same conflicts, culture, and obstacles. Oftentimes in marginalized populations there is “lateral fighting,” which the institution has experienced bouts of among various groups that the Civil Rights Heritage Center champions, and also within the LGBTQ community itself.
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 In addition to opposition from without, even the LGBTQ community in South Bend is sometimes divided on the value of this archival work. One tension Lee has faced is the various reactions by different people in the LGBTQ community. One individual has confronted her to assert that they do not need the collection and it is not helping. Others have fought her over credit, not only for the collection but also for when the gay and lesbian civil rights movement started. Such lateral fighting within the LGBTQ community goes back to the beginning of the movement in South Bend, and disagreements over the community’s history persist even today. There are some people who actually believe that the local LGBTQ movement began in South Bend in 2012 with the passage of the local human-rights ordinance. Others are coming forward and making the previously undocumented history of the movement from the 1970s more widely known. These local squabbles are a microcosm of the same sort of infighting seen at the national levels of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, for example, over who originated the fight for marriage equality. While these tensions exist, the community archivist has learned that they are good motivators and compel members of the community to come forward and contribute to the collection by telling their side of the story.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 One vocal donor expressed anxiety over materials ending up for sale on eBay and other such peddler sites. The community archivist has echoed other concerns within the LGBTQ community that some items in their collection will be deaccessioned at a higher rate or volume than others in the archive. Included in the community’s anxieties are Lee’s own; she worries constantly that her possible donors are going to die before she can reach them. Many of the early pioneers of local LGBTQ activism are aging and suffering from illnesses. Lee worries if left to their family members, and not their “found family of LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” the documents that detail their struggle and life will disappear along with their last breath.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 The positive message of inclusiveness has a way of spreading as well, and the rest of the community will eventually hear about it. Likewise, if the opposite is true, if the community is not welcomed to the institutional archives, it can become a liability; the institutional archives could be seen as untrustworthy and not a place one would want to work with. Archives can be seen as places of exclusion and elitism in many ways. In effect, word spreads. Positive word can also net more volunteers who are knowledgeable about community history to work with the collections in question—or the opposite. There has been positive momentum in the past few decades to correct the former concentration on preserving a single dominant history. Our endeavor to preserve Michiana’s LGBTQ history, as well as other efforts by the Archives at Indiana University South Bend to gather oral histories and personal collections from the local African American and Latino communities, are examples of how our institution—along with many others—are righting this wrong.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 The Archives benefits because now we have a collection that documents the LGBTQ community in a rustbelt city, already an under-documented region, in its narrative. Moving forward, archivists will most likely be working with materials formerly viewed as taboo, as more diverse populations gain rights and representation in the wider culture. The current collection includes pornography, advertisements of a sexual nature, and thousands of personal letters to and from closeted gay men. What does it mean for the archives to collect materials that were or are considered taboo? No matter the material, the archivist is committed to preserving and protecting the articles in their care. However, while it is important to maintain strong ties with the different elements in their communities, archives must be free to perform their duty, no matter how objectionable some members of their communities might find those materials to be.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 The effort to collect the voices, stories, and struggles of lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and queer people in South Bend, Indiana, is ongoing. The project is in a fairly early stage, but it rests on a strong framework: robust structural support by the institutional archivist and her shared excitement for the mission of the project with the community archivist. The building blocks of respect, enthusiasm, guidance, documentation, and access to these important voices and histories are strong. This project can serve as a positive example for similar ones in other communities and other contexts.
- ¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0
- Carlo Rotella, “As If to Say ‘Jeez!'”: Blight and Ecstasy in the Old Neighborhood,” U.S. Catholic Historian 22, no. 2 (Spring 2004): 3. [↩]
- Elizabeth Williams, “‘I Don’t Want to Be the Victim No More’: A Lesbian History of a Midwestern City, 1974-Present” (unpublished manuscript). [↩]
- Abigail J. Stewart, Jayati Lal, and Kristin McGuire, “Expanding the Archives of Global Feminisms: Narratives of Feminism and Activism,” Signs 36, no. 4 (Summer 2011): 892. [↩]
- Cheryl McEwan, “Building a Postcolonial Archive? Gender, Collective Memory and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 29, no. 3 (September 2003): 744. [↩]
- Frank A. Robinson, Jr., “Guide to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBTQ) Collection,” Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, 2009, http://amhistory.si.edu/archives/AC1146.pdf. [↩]
- “About the GLBT History Museum,” GLBT Historical Society, http://www.glbthistory.org/museum/. [↩]
- “Welcome to the Lesbian Herstory Archives,” Lesbian Herstory Archive, last modified 2015, http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/. [↩]
- Other university campuses have similar centers, such as Washington University’s Social Justice Center (http://sjc.wustl.edu/) and the University of Minnesota’s Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice (http://www.hhh.umn.edu/centers/rwc/). [↩]
- “Civil Rights,” Civil Rights Heritage Center of Indiana University South Bend, 2015, https://www.iusb.edu/civil-rights/index.php. [↩]
- “Welcome,” Black Archives of Mid-America, 2015, http://blackarchives.org/. [↩]
- “Local History Online,” Urbana Free Library, 2015, http://urbanafreelibrary.org/local-history-genealogy/local-history-online. [↩]
- “Our Collection,” Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library, 2015, http://www.brodskylibrary.org/archives.php. [↩]
- “About SAADA,” South Asian American Digital Archive, 2015, https://www.saada.org/. [↩]
- Tom Beatty, personal interview with the authors, June 3, 2015. [↩]
Katie Madonna Lee
Project Archivist – Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians
Archivist and Associate Librarian – Indiana University South Bend