Birmingham Event Spotlights Preserving LGBTQ History, Collects Memorabilia Such as Videos, Banners, Photographs and Clothing

Maigen Sullivan, left, and Josh Burford have organized Queer History South, a conference held in Birmingham this weekend for historians, archivists and scholars studying Southern LGBTQ history. (Source: Invisible Histories Project.)

More than 150 scholars, archivists and historians will come to Birmingham over the weekend to discuss how to best collect, preserve and research the history of the LGBTQ community in the South.

It’s the first year for the conference, called Queer History South, but organizer Josh Burford, a historian and archivist, said there’s resounding support for the event that helps researchers facing a hard task.

“If it’s there at all, it’s hard to find,” Burford said of the materials they look for. Digging into the history of a traditionally marginalized group can be difficult, Burford said.

Speakers at the event will include representatives from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Queer History South is part of the Invisible Histories Project, of which Burford is the director of community engagement. The project is a Birmingham-based nonprofit group that connects universities and libraries with LGBTQ groups and people to help preserve their histories.

Burford said the group is working to expand in Mississippi and Georgia.

The Invisible Histories Project started collecting in Alabama in February 2018. Members have preserved items such as photographs, video, clothing and memorabilia. The materials are then stored in repository sites such as libraries throughout the state.

The project’s collections now include banners from gay and lesbian student groups at Alabama colleges, video footage of the inaugural central Alabama gay pride parade in 1989, and decades-old print guides to gay bars in the Southeast. Birmingham had 17 gay bars in the mid-1970s.

In this photo from the Invisible History Project’s Frank Susko Collection, members of the University of Alabama’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance participate in a 1993 March on Washington.

Burford also said the project is working to collect all the editions of Alabama’s gay and lesbian newspapers. One of those publications, The Alabama Forum, ran from 1977 to 2002.

One of the repositories working with the group is the Birmingham Public Library. Archivist Jim Baggett said the library had started collecting LGBTQ-related materials for its archives even before Burford approached library representatives.

“It is an area that has been overlooked,” Baggett said.

The Birmingham library has worked to preserve the history not only of Birmingham’s leaders and prominent citizens, but of common people and minority groups, according to Baggett. Helping to preserve LGBTQ history is an extension of that, he said.

Another repository for the project is the UAB Special Collections Library, which keeps much of the LGBTQ materials associated with the University of Alabama system. according to Burford.

The response to the conference and the work of the project has been overwhelmingly positive, Burford said, but they did receive their first bit of hate mail Monday, Burford said.

Burford described the email as boiler plate.

But Maigen Sullivan, director of development for the project, said that piece of correspondence will be archived, too.


Queer History South Public Events

Registration for the Queer History South conference is closed, but the project will hold two events open to the public. The first is a screening of “The Joneses,” a film that tells the story of a family in Mississippi led by a 74-year-old transgender matriarch. The event will include a Q&A with John Howard, LGBTQ scholar and professor emeritus at King’s College London. The screening will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Organizers will also hold a community cocktail hour at 41st Pub starting at 6 p.m. Friday.