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LGBT History in the OC

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Marlon Castillo | New University

New exhibit archives the struggles and successes of the OC LGBT community.

The UC Irvine Libraries hosted a special reception and viewing of their new “Documenting LGBT History in Orange County” exhibit on Thursday, Nov. 15 in the Caroline A. Laudati Conference Room of Langson Library.

The event was a way for the libraries to present their ongoing efforts to preserve the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Orange County, and to thank the people who generously contributed to the collection.

Attendants were given the opportunity to first view the exhibit, which will be on display in the Special Collections and Archives lobby on the fifth floor of Langson Library until Dec. 14.

The materials on display are only a small sample of the documents that exist in the LGBT archival collections at UCI. Archivists gathered materials for the exhibit that revolve around the themes of pride and identity; politics and civil rights; support and organizations; and social life and culture.

The exhibit contains documents ranging from pamphlets of Disneyland’s unofficial “Gay Days” to letters urging citizens to vote “No” on Proposition 6. Also known as the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6 was a 1978 California measure that would have banned people of the LGBT community from teaching in California’s public schools. This proposition did not pass, thanks to activists across the state and also in Orange County.

After the exhibit viewing, people gathered in the conference room for remarks from contributors and organizers of the collection.

“We’re not trying to write the definitive history of lesbian and gay history of Orange County, nor do we claim to be experts on it,” Michelle Light, Head of Special Collections, Archives & Digital Scholarship, said.

“But what we can do is collect, organize, preserve, help people use this material. We want to make sure that new generations can tell a variety of stories — all sorts of things about the struggles and successes that individuals and organizations in Orange County had in forging new cultures, celebrating identities, lobbying for rights and services or forming new supportive networks. We really hope that the future generations of all kinds can really work with these materials in new and creative ways we haven’t even imagined.”

Two main supporters of the LGBT Archive were Orange County LGBT activists Barbara Muirhead and Brad Brafford.

Muirhead first became involved with preserving LGBT Orange County history when she started the OC Historical Timeline Project in 1995. The idea for this project was spurred when Muirhead started giving background information to the people of the Orange County Federation of Lesbian, Gay and HIV/AIDS support organizations. She realized that accurate, authentic stories and information from this community needed to be saved for future generations, so she figured that this project would be the best avenue to keep the history alive.

Since the project’s inception, researcher Dick Hitt has also contributed materials and expanded the information. The timeline has served as a great tool for UCI’s LGBT Resource Center and community organizations, and was also a wealth of information when putting together the UCI Special Collections and Archives.

Hitt, Muirhead and other members of the UCI Libraries worked together for years to gather materials for the archive, and Muirhead is happy to see the information on display and so accessible now.

“It’s important. People always ask us, those of the community, ‘Well, what happens in Orange County?’” Muirhead said when discussing the significance of the archive.

“This is what started the whole thing. The kids going up into leadership didn’t know what Orange County had ever done. They tell us to go to Long Beach, to go to LA … but we have a history here. We did things here. We had 80 organizations here back in the ’80s serving the community — 80 organizations. I don’t even think Long Beach can match that.”

Brad Brafford, a gay rights activist and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County (The Center OC), also contributed several files to the archive that document gay/lesbian political advocacy from 1972 to the mid ’90s.

“I just hope that our people, our students and people of the future will look at these papers and this collection and be able to get an idea of what things were like in the early days here in Orange County,” Brafford said.

The UCI Libraries hope that students and community members will take advantage of these resources for not only scholarly research, but also for a greater appreciation of advancements for the LGBT community from the past to the present.

Organizers also encouraged attendants to donate current materials to keep the collection growing.

“We have to start creating documentation of your experience so it can be saved and passed on,” Light said.

“If you’re part of an organization, make sure your organization is documenting what you’re doing and passing it on … you can all do your part to ensure that history is recorded so future generations can appreciate what you’re doing.”