The COVID-19 pandemic has affected non-profit organizations across the country and the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana is no exception. In addition to disrupting the Archives Project’s programming schedule for 2020, the shutdown has afforded the Archives Project an opportunity to refocus its overall mission, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Simultaneously, the pandemic has also enabled the all-volunteer organization to productively continue the ongoing effort to “Get Our History Out of the Closet.”
The most obvious effect of the lockdown for the Archives Project was the loss of its administrative office and exhibit space on St. Ann Street. The exhibit space, which featured a timeline of local queer history as well as vintage photographs from gay Carnival balls and Southern Decadence memorabilia, among other things, was funded primarily through the generous donations of those who visited the space. The loss of that income made keeping the space open unfeasible.
While the Archives Project hopes to eventually reopen another exhibit space, such a space is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of what the Archives Project does. Much of the work involved in preserving history is conducted behind the scenes—locating collections & material and then persuading the owners to donate it to an area museum or archival repository. In the last few months, the Archives Project has been successful in facilitating the donation of two major collections to the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University: The organizational records of PFLAG New Orleans (including a complete run of their newsletter, The Banner) and the personal papers of Larry Best, an attorney and long-time activist.
In addition to farming collections to permanent homes, the Archives Project has also kept busy with its oral history initiative. When the pandemic broke out, several previously recorded interviews had yet to be transcribed. Transcription is a painstakingly tedious process but since the city shut down, several have been completed.
Public programming events, of course, have had to be canceled or postponed. The Archives Project annual membership meeting, which usually takes place in June, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined later in the year, and the group’s annual Oracle Gala, at which a person or organization is honored for their donation of material that helps chronicle our history, has been canceled for 2020. Nevertheless, the Archives Project did partner with SAGE New Orleans (formerly NOAGE) to co-sponsor a virtual panel discussion on the History of Pride in New Orleans.
Other programs slated for 2020 have also shifted to online platforms. The Archives Project had planned to participate in an October conference of The National Museum of African American History and Culture (a division of the Smithsonian Museum). The conference was to be held in New Orleans before the pandemic; it has now shifted to an online Community Curation Project. The Archives Project is proud to participate.
The NMAAHC’ Community Curation Project was launched prior to the murder of George Floyd and the rejuvenation of the Black Lives Matter movement makes it even more timely. Regarding BLM, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana has joined hundreds of institutions around the country in signing the open letter, “LGBTQ Organizations Unite to Combat Racial Violence,” and has issued its own statement condemning the racist murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Tommie McGlauthen Jr., and far too many others across this nation.
The Archives Project is also in the process of seeking a publisher to commission a book about African American LGBT+ history in New Orleans to be written by a local queer author of color. This effort is in its beginning stages but is critically important. Gaps in the LGBT+ historical record abound and the lack of black primary source material is gaping.
Pandemic or not, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana remains committed to preserving local queer history. To learn more about the AP’s work, or to donate financially, please visit https://www.lgbtarchiveslouisiana.org/