Unlocking LGBTQ Heritage by Navigating the Archives

Perhaps an LGBTQ ancestor left behind a collection of love letters like Willa Cather or Charity Bryant.  Or maybe there is an existing dairy confessing details of their love life. An ancestor may have been mentioned in a queer organization’s newsletter. With luck and exhaustive research, unique treasures might be found at an LGBTQ Archive. There are dozens of LGTBQ Archives domestically and internationally.

One of the earliest LGBTQ Archives traces back to Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneering gay Jewish German sexologist and medical doctor. In 1897, Hirschfeld established the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Germany, advocating for LGBT Human Rights. His Institute of Sexual Science, founded in 1919, promoted sex education, contraception, advice for gay and transgender individuals, and women’s rights. In 1933 Nazi stormtroopers raided the Institute. The books burning in newsreels of the day were those of Hirschfeld’s library. The Nazis utilized his client list to compile “pink lists,” identifying homosexuals for death in concentration camps. Hirschfeld’s legacy as a pioneer of LGBTQ rights and research is remembered through resources like the Making Gay History podcast.

In the contemporary landscape, one of the largest online LGBTQ Archives is the Gale – Archives of Sexuality and Gender. Spanning the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, this digital collection encompasses historical primary source publications related to sex, sexuality, and gender studies. The archives cover social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBTQ communities globally, with materials ranging from rare books to newsletters and periodicals from various nations.

Locally, I have researched in institutions like the GLBT Historical Society Museum & Archive in San Francisco. Housing approximately 800 collections of personal papers, photographs, audiovisual recordings, and organizational records, this archive provides insight into the lives of both everyday individuals and community leaders. Their extensive holdings include unpublished materials such as letters, diaries, and scrapbooks, along with an impressive array of ephemera, oral histories, and film and video recordings.

To discover LGBTQ Archives in your area, tools like ProQuest or NUCMC can be invaluable. If you know of other LGBTQ Archives, please post the name and URL in the comments.

International Archives Locations
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives Parkville, Australia
Pride Library London, Ontario, Canada
Quebec Gay Archives Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives Toronto, Canada
British Columbia Gay and Lesbian Archives Vancouver, British Columbia
The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria Victoria, British Columbia
Schwules Museum Berlin, Germany
Centrum Schwule Geschichte Koln, Germany
IHLIA LGBT Heritage Amsterdam, Holland
Háttér Archive & Society Budapest, Hungary
Irish Queer Archive Dublin, Ireland
GALA South Africa
Hall–Carpenter Archives London, UK