Inside the Austin History Center’s LGBTQ Collections
The city’s historical archive shines a light on lesser-told stories
In researching the history of the LGBTQ rights movement and Pride celebrations in Austin, much of this article's early history and interview subjects were gleaned through the LGBTQ Resource Guide and collections at the Austin History Center.
In 2012, former AHC video archivist Tim Hamblin and volunteer Scott Hoffman created the center's LGBTQ Resource Guide. According to Kelly Hanus, a processing archivist at the AHC, the decision was largely born out of the efforts of former Chronicle senior editor Kate Messer and Chronicle contributor Andy Campbell in 2009 to document Austin's gay "barchive," during which the pair dug through the center's LGBTQ collections and came up mostly empty. "The guide," explained Hanus, "allows for researchers to see a gathered list of archival materials we house that document the LGBTQ community, organizations, events, and issues, from periodicals to photographs to organizational records."
The center has since prioritized collecting LGBTQ materials, said Hanus, who acknowledged that the AHC is "still lacking in LGBTQ collections" and continually seeking materials to add to the archive. With the requirement that the materials be relevant to Austin and Travis County history, the center accepts everything from personal papers and photos to digital materials, whether they be part of a group of materials pertaining to a single person or organization, or single items. (See our interactive timeline online for a sample of items that have been donated to the LGBTQ collections.)
In addition to limited staffing and high workloads, Hanus said another challenge with building up the AHC's LGBTQ collections is an ethical dilemma: How does an archivist navigate post-mortem outing? Figuring out how to describe materials pertaining to people who were not out during their lifetime – "though perhaps their family and close friends knew and donated materials after their death" – and whether to add them to the LGBTQ Resource Guide is a delicate process. "For those that passed away during a certain era, it is a difficult line to walk." Hanus agrees that community archiving between friends and family is essential in creating more "appropriately and authentically" detailed records, seeing an ideal solution in making connections while people are living. "Obviously, that is not always going to be the case, but I believe a big part of our role as archivists for the city is to build lasting relationships."
For the AHC, Hanus explained, prioritizing the LGBTQ collections allows for a more comprehensively documented history of the city. "Local history archives across the country have had to come to terms with how they have failed in the past to collect documentation of every community," she said, pointing to the center's three community archivists working to collect materials from the local Asian Pacific American, African American, and Latinx communities. "Donating materials to your local history center allows for your story and your community's story to become accessible to the public at large for generations to come."