Share a toast with Empress IV Reba of the San Francisco Imperial Court and check out the costumes at this party from 1968. Can you help us identify the location? This is a silent excerpt from the Anonymous Collection 2000-67, eight 8 mm films which revolve around Reba and the Court. We scanned the entire collection in high definition this past March.
The Castro Street Fair celebrates its 41st anniversary this Sunday. Founded in 1974 by Harvey Milk, it’s long been a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Artists, vendors, craftspeople, and community organizations line the streets while several stages feature live music and dancing.
The archives is fortunate to possess amateur videotape shot at the 1976 and 1978 fairs. It’s part of the Daniel Smith/Queer Blue Light collection of nearly 100 reels produced by community enthusiasts in the 1970s. Below, take a trip through the sights and sounds of the Castro Street Fair as it happened on October 3, 1976.
One of the larger collections that the NHPRC grant has brought to light in the archives is a videotape collection from the now disbanded group BML Videos. Coming in at just over 16 linear feet, this collection contains over 400 VHS and SVHS tapes created mainly during the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, documenting numerous LGBT events, contests, fairs, and performances in the Bay Area, including: Gay Softball League events; the Bare Chest, Cheeks & Chaps, Mr. South of Market, Mr. San Francisco Cowboy, Mr San Francisco Leather, Leather Daddy, International Ms Leather, International Mr. Drummer, and bodybuilding contests; events at the Eagle; Imperial Court coronations and celebrations; the Closet Ball; Folsom, Castro, Dore Alley and Mission Street Fairs; and Pride Parades. There is also video from the 1993 March on Washington and footage from bike and leather clubs and drag shows.
The BML Videos collection was donated to the GLBT Historical Society in 2014 and with it came, thankfully, an inventory of contents created by the collection donor (when a collection comes with any sort of inventory, archivists are generally happy campers). This inventory contains details about individual recordings that only the creator could know: who shot what footage, raw versus edited content, and exact video dates. As a research tool and supplemental guide, this inventory not only reveals valuable contextual information about the collection itself, but it also provides a useful map to help researchers better navigate the details of each recording.
But like many creator-produced collection inventories, the valuable information it contains doesn’t necessarily make practical sense to the public. To address this, an archival finding aid was created that not only contains basic collection information, such as the scope of the collection and how large it is, but also a simplified inventory, or container listing, that one can utilize to better understand the potential research value of the collection. This finding aid container listing is enhanced by viewing the donor’s inventory, making for a robust, multi-faceted collection guide when combined. It is a nice compromise between the MPLP practices we utilize here at the GLBT Historical Society archives and the more detailed item-level description that most archivists simply don’t have the luxury to carry out.
With the collection now fully processed, the BML Videos videotape collection (#2014-10) is open to researchers in the GLBT Historical Society archives. Guides for the collection can be found at the archives search page. To view items from the collection or the donor-created videotape inventory, please contact the archives team.
One of the city’s most celebrated events, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is the culmination of LGBT Pride month events that take place over the month of June. More than just a parade, this whirlwind of rainbow flags, wild costumes, and celebratory smiles has been overflowing with love vibes since its beginning in 1970, when it was simply called the Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay-in. Over the last 45 years, the parade’s incarnations – Christopher Street West (1972), Gay Freedom Day (1973-1980), International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade (1981-1994), and as we know it today, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration (1995-present) – have upheld, at their core, the fundamental human right to love and be loved, without regard to gender, sexuality, creed, or politics. It is a day to celebrate both individualism and community, to share support and shout out loud, “Equality Without Exception!”
Here in the GLBTHS archives, snapshots – both figuratively and literally – of San Francisco Pride history can be found in nearly every collection. When the parade first began in the 1970s, a man named Lou Perica (#1991-15) took it upon himself to film some of the early parades. Spanning 1974 to 1981, Perica’s various Pride Parade films reveal a sampling of the figures, organizations, costumes and causes that have become so integral to LGBTQ history.
Perica’s footage of Harvey Milk seems to evoke the feeling that we are right alongside his convertible, up at the spectator line, glimpsing Milk as his political career was evolving, before and after the mustache. In what would be Milk’s last Pride Parade appearance before his tragic 1978 assassination, Perica’s film gives viewers today a glimpse of this charismatic individual. Through the Visions and Voices project, and with the digitization leadership of GLBTHS volunteer John Raines, we are able to bring to life the spirit of Milk within the context of this celebration.
The parade is not designed to discriminate; both participants and spectators come together during this one special day a year to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Perica’s films capture much of this communal spirit, placing viewers within a myriad of marching contingencies, from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the Dykes on Bikes and the Rainbow Deaf Society.
But films are not the only medium here in the GLBTHS archives in which past Pride Parades take form. With the growing prevalence of compact cameras in the 1970s and 80s, photo snapshots and the documentation of the day-to-day became more commonplace, and by the late 1980s and early 90s, the vast diversity of San Francisco Pride participants becomes crystal clear. In the Spencer N. Nutting photographs (#1990-18), for instance, images of the San Jose group the High Tech Gays marching in the 1989 Pride Parade are shown embracing the parade’s long held tradition of including witty yet poignant hand signs, with one reading “Nobody DOS it Better!” Similarly, the Mark C. Goniwiecha photographs (#1998-15) include the ACT UP contingency with a sign demanding “Earn Your Attitude ACT UP”, as well as the Stop AIDS Project – perhaps embracing the then popular Right Said Fred song – sporting a “No one is TOO SEXY for a condom”. Another Pride-rich collection, the Sabrina Mazzoni photographs (#2006-03), contains over one hundred various snapshots of different San Francisco Pride weekend events in the early 1990s (“Don’t Ask – It’s Clear We’re Queer!”/ “Don’t Tell – Thank God We’re Gay!”).
Without a doubt, the sampling of collections mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg in the GLBTHS archives’ documentation of the San Francisco Pride Parade. With this year’s event taking place in just a few days, one can look to these films and photographs not just as historical documents with enduring value (of course, they are), but as a reminder of how strong the LGBTQ community voice once was, is today, and will be long into the future.
To view any of these collections or discover others, stop in the archives on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, or make an appointment.
Throughout the months of April and May, Visions and Voices uncovered more meaningful GLBTHS collections that capture much of the everyday social and cultural lives of LGBTQ individuals in the 20th century. During this two month working period, I advanced the Visions and Voices project by surveying 14 new collections, processing 12, and creating and posting finding aids for 4 collections of photographic and AV materials, bringing the project totals within reach of its stated goals. Progress!
In early April, I set my sights on processing the KQED ‘The Castro’ videotapes (#2000-63). Containing 40 one inch reels of B rolls and interviews from KQED’s documentary on the Castro neighborhood – the third episode in KQED’s series “Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities of San Francisco” – the footage was utilized to create a cohesive narrative which aired in 1998, two years after filming took place. Highlighting subjects such as the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) police raid in 1965, the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Mascone in 1978, and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, “The Castro” integrates interviews with residents of the neighborhood to document the varied experiences of former Irish residents, gay men, lesbians, and queer youth. For more information on the program, please visit the KQED “Making of the Castro” page.
Another collection that emerged from the archives in April was the Harold O’Neal film collection (#2002-03) documenting the life’s work of filmmaker Harold O’Neal who started filming in 1939 and continued through the 1980s. His films contain material about a wide variety of subjects on gay and general interest themes, including footage of the relocation of Japanese Americans to concentration camps in World War II, female impersonators performing at the Beige Room in San Francisco, gay men socializing in the 1940s, and gay freedom day parades from 1978-1980.
Because the O’Neal collection is in the process of being digitized (a separate project that is not part of the Visions and Voices NHPRC grant), I felt it an ideal opportunity for me to give the physical collection proper archival documentation. As of June, this 5.25 linear feet collection has been completely surveyed and is now awaiting completion of a finding aid, which will be posted on the GLBTHS section of the Online Archive of California as soon as it’s completed.
Moving on to May, an interesting group of photographs from the Koala’s Motorcycle Club Run (#2015-12) came across my processing tables. Although the collection is small – only 6 black and white photos dating from about 1967 – I was struck by the Koala’s members, including Peter Fiske, who are candidly socializing outdoors, dressed in leather caps and boots, denim vests and jeans. Surprisingly, while researching the history of the Koala’s Motorcycle Club, I came across an article written by Mister Marcus in the Bay Area Reporter titled “Life beyond IML”; in it, an image is used that closely resembles one of those found in the GLBTHS Koala Motorcycle Club Run collection that I was then working on. The caption for the image in the article reads:
“Group photo of the Koala’s Motorcycle Club of San Francisco in 1967. Note certain men with run buttons on their caps – a trademark among bike clubs in those days. Also note lower right hand photo of a much younger Peter Fiske. photo: The Late Henri Leleu”.
This one caption helped me to understand so much contextual information about this small collection of photographs: the year, names, and photographer of the images, which I then integrated into the catalog record. Researching is always a vital part in processing any archival collection, but rarely do such specific details surface.
With so many interesting collections emerging and more collections to be discovered, Visions and Voices is proving an extremely valuable tool in shedding light on forgotten and fading narratives. Other noteworthy collections that have surfaced in April and May include: the William A. Longen videotapes (#2008-31) of KTVU news segments documenting LGBTQ communities and events from 1977 to 1997 within the Bay Area; the Audrey Joseph collection of VHS videotapes (#2008-30), trophies, posters, and ephemera documenting past International Ms. Leather and Ms. SF Leather events, International Mr. Leather and Mr. SF Leather events, Drummer events, and Club Townsend; and photographic and AV accretions to the William Struzenberg papers which contain various materials reflecting Struzenberg’s life as a student and artist, as well as his involvement with AIDS activism in ACT UP Golden Gate and ACT NOW.
March marked the 2nd month of my work on the NHPRC grant-funded project Visions and Voices in GLBT History. While immersing myself in archival materials the way an archivist often must (by painstakingly identifying, implementing, and documenting a logical physical and intellectual arrangement, among other things, in order to facilitate public access), it can be difficult to remain emotionless when examining evidence of the difficulties and struggles experienced by individuals of the past. One particular period in LGBTQ Bay Area history — the HIV/AIDS crisis beginning in the 1980s — permeates much of the narratives in the GLBTHS archives. Through looking at the photographs, videos, and listening to the audio recordings captured around this seminal period, it is obvious the depth of grief and anger felt by many who bore witness. And while the emotion is evident, preserved in the documents which serve often as outlets of grief, it is diverse, complicated, and in some primal way, beautiful.
In a collection of photographs by Vitorio (Victor) Arimondi (#2000-13), he employs an artful eye to memorialize male models who posed for his early photographs and later died from HIV/AIDS. In each image within this collection, an altar of sorts is set around a framed photograph of the late model, along with subtle reminders of the impact of AIDS. Another collection in the archives, the Molly Hogan videotapes (#1992-10), contains an array of videotapes documenting the vast effects of HIV/AIDS within Bay Area communities, from training videos of the grief group the Shanti Project to the closure of San Francisco bathhouses due to the city’s fear that the establishments encouraged the spread of HIV. With the loss of life as well as the loss of cultural and social outlets, HIV/AIDS threw a dark cloak over both space and time in San Franciscan LGBTQ communities.
It is stunning that in all the sadness of HIV/AIDS, there exists in LGBTQ communities a power to endure, act, and transform in a positive way. The John Osterkorn photograph portfolio (#2015-10) documents work produced through the group Visual Aid, which helps produce, present, and preserve work by artists affected by HIV/AIDS. Another collection, the David Bandy collection (#2002-30), documents concert promoter David Bandy’s intent to bring entertainment and social events to the public during a period of increasing communal grief.
As Visions and Voices forges on in the coming months, the complex narratives surrounding HIV/AIDS history in the Bay Area will continue to surface. It is my task to give them a louder, more public voice by protecting, preparing, and promoting their access to the public.
It is with great excitement that the GLBT Historical Society announces Visions and Voices of GLBT History, an archival survey and processing project in the GLBTHS archives. In what began August 2014 through a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), Visions and Voices is uncovering the GLBTHS’ rich photographic and audiovisual collections to increase public access to these materials. The project entails a complete survey of the Archive’s photographic and audiovisual collections as well as processing three quarters of these collections. Additionally, approximately 100 new catalog records will be added to the GLBTHS public online database, with numerous new collection finding aids added to the Online Archive of California. Recommendations for digitization are also being recorded and will serve to inform future GLBTHS digitization efforts.
Former Project Archivist Juliet Demeter and former Managing Archivist Marjorie Bryer set a strong pace for this project during its launch in 2014. Currently, the new Project Archivist JoJo Black continues their efforts by ushering the project into 2015. This blog will serve to reveal the insights, gems, stories, and successes discovered throughout this important NHPRC grant-funded project. Stay tuned!