CLAGS was honored
to sponsor the 2nd Gay, Lesbian,
Bi, Transgender Archives Libraries
Manuscripts and Special Collections
Conference held at the CUNY
Graduate Center May 8 – 10, 2008.
Highlights included keynote
speakers Bing Lan and Damien
Lu from Beijing’s Information
Clearinghouse for Chinese Gays &
Lesbians (ICCGL); Busi Kheswa &
Anthony Manion from the Gay and
Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA)
in Johannesburg, South Africa;
and Susan Stryker’s talk: Archival
Knowledges: Practical, Political, and
Theoretical Observations on Making
Queer History.
Receptions and tours highlighted
collections at the Lesbian Herstory
Archives in Brooklyn (a primary
co-sponsor of the conference);
the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive
at the NYPL’s Schomburg Center
in Harlem; the NYPL’s Humanities
and Social Sciences Manuscripts &
Archive Division; and the National
Archive of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual &
Transgender History at the LGBT
Community Center in Manhattan.
Find the conference program on
the CLAGS website at http://web.

Polly Thistlethwaite, The Graduate Center, CUNY Librarian and
CLAGS board member 2004-2008, was the main conference
organizer, with organizing committee members Amy Beth (Lesbian
Herstory Archives/ School for International Training); Mary
Caldera (Yale University Libraries); Steven G. Fullwood (New
York Public Library Schomburg Center/ Black Gay and Lesbian
Archive); Marcia M. Gallo (joining the University of Nevada, Las
Vegas fall 2008); and Michael Waldman (Baruch College Library).
CLAGS inherited the GLBT ALMS conference from the organizers
of the first ALMS conference in Minneapolis in May 2006.
Here is a selection of Thistlethwaite’s opening remarks, May 9:

“We come together to learn, to
discuss how queer archival record
in its many varieties shapes and
reflects the contexts in which it is
formed; to examine what and how queer
materials are held, organized, suppressed,
and more recently exploited as fund raising
tools for mainstream collections; to explore
how documents subvert and are subverted;
to organize ways to share materials with
each other; to improve distribution and to
sharpen our eyes when focusing on any archive
to deepen understandings of collection
building, representation, and agency. We
also explore the purposes our archives serve;
what sensibilities influence our service; and
what control, if any, archivists might ethically
exercise over the narratives that ground
themselves in our collections.
In the United States, at least, we’re in
some throes of archival anxiety; that is discomfort
with shifting patterns of evidence
and belief. We are witnessing a displacement
of peer review, slackening standards
of citation, and the frequent resounding
defeat of rational argument. Two small
indicators of this may be the popularity
of Steven Colbert’s term “Wikiality” (the
quality of enough people passionately supporting
a statement that it becomes true)
closely related to the Comedy Central term
“Truthiness,” (the degree to which one holds
something to be true regardless of factual
Certainly, our amplified concern with
what’s true and what’s not true has got
something to do with our current government
employing fabricated evidence to
corral its citizenry behind an unjust war.
This is only one among other instances of,
oh, let’s call it lying.
Queer people and movements have experience
in the patterns of “Wikiality,” “Truthness,”
and Lying. We also know a great deal
about archival absences and related abridgements.
Here are a couple of my favorite jokes.
#1 How many lesbians does it take to screw
in a light bulb? Answer: three; one to screw
in the bulb and two to make a video about it. Favorite joke #2: How many librarians
does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer:
Librarians don’t screw in light bulbs,
they screw in ‘sources of illumination.’
(Really the broader term in the Library of
Congress Subject Headings is “incandescent
bulbs”…but “sources of illumination” is
funnier and more to the point.)
The founding rationale for our work is
the idea that alternative culture, i.e. “sources
of illumination,” used to counter oppression
& to expand upon disrespected lives
and underexplored events, is supported by
archives and libraries that include and even
assert the evidence, the testimonies, the
demonstrations, the performance, the official
misbehavior. Alternative maps of the dominant
archives – often created by researchers
mining the archive; maps that point to the
lives and events in historical record unidentified
and unexplored are valuable products
of our work.
We manage archives that, like the lives
they reflect, stand unprotected by laws that
govern inheritance and ownership. But our
besieged, underfunded, and often discredited
queer archives and indices, modest as
they are, have been essential in constructing
and sustaining narratives that spin counter
to historical misstatements, that elaborate
on fragmentary understandings, erasures,
and slights. This is good and honorable
work we do.
Archives trigger and anchor memory,
they allow us tangible access to our personal
pasts, to our friends. This conference honors
the memory of three who have passed since
our last conference in 2006: Yolanda Retter
Vargas, Barbara Gittings, and Allan Bérubé.