From Memory to Marriage: The Archive, Agency and the Advance of LGBTQ+ Rights in America

deadline for submissions: 
May 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
University of Southern California
contact email: 

­Call for Papers: Edited Volume, Brill, European Perspectives on the United States Series

Title: From Memory to Marriage: The Archive, Political Agency and the Advance of LGBTQ Rights in America


Ben Alexander:

Mary Foltz:




In 1924 Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, Illinois. Gerber’s Society was granted an official charter from the state of Illinois making it the first sanctioned gay rights organization in the United States. Gerber used his personal typewriter to publish a gay interest newsletter entitled, Friendship and Freedom. During the summer of 1925 Chicago Police raided Gerber’s home. Gerber endured three trails. His personal papers were confiscated and are lost along with the few printed editions of Friendship and Freedom.  Gerber and the Society for Human Rights are a defining moment in LGBTQ history in America that, from a historiographical point of view, are shaped by archival absence.


In 1950, Harry Hay established the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles. Hay described his society as a ‘homophile’ organization. The society flourished. Chapters were established in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Unlike the Society for Human Rights, the Mattachine Society retains a vast archival holding. Indeed, in 2011 the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C. dedicated itself as the founding center for archival research of LGBT political history in America. From an archival perspective, the activisms of the 1950s and 1960s were documented with a breadth and depth of perspectives that were, at the time, historically unprecedented.


Advances in technologies of capture (photographs, moving image, oral history etc.) resulted in the preservations of memory that were deeply personal and which placed collective evidence beyond the reach of government censure.  Civil rights societies across America served as centers of convergence for activists and their archives as feminist, anti-racist, anti-war, and anti-nuke organizers built powerful movements and document their activity.


The LGBTQ community was no different. These groups quickly realized that documenting their own struggle was an act of resistance in and of itself. Indeed, what today are called Community Archives sprung up across the nation. From a historical point of view the LGBTQ movement in America is distinct because many of the energies from the 1950s and 1960s had to be reinvented during the AIDS crisis. From an archival perspective, this means that, especially across the later decades of the 20th century, LGBTQ history in America is richly documented.


During the late 1980s progressive minded curators from established institutions across the United States began to collect personal and institutional archives documenting the Gay Revolution: ACT      UP NY (New York Public Library, 1995); Gay Men’s Health Crisis (New York Public Library, 1993); The Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Museum (San Francisco, 1985); Harvey Milk Archives (San Francisco Public Library, 1996); Lesbian Herstory Archive (Est. 1975); and, Mattachine Society (New York Public Library, 1988). During the 1990s these archives evolved from their initial purpose of shaping cohesion for activist energies and towards a point of origin for historical narratives that placed LGBTQ history firmly within the strictures of “American History.”


In 1994, the New York Public Library premiered Becoming Visible: The Legacy of Stonewall. This exhibit was visited by more than 100,000 people. It is no coincidence that it was also during the 1990s that LGBTQ identity began to fully manifest in American popular culture. Ellen debuted on ABC in 1994 and on April 30, 1997 Ellen became the first character to “come out” on American network television. Will & Grace debuted on 1998 followed by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in 2003. During these same years Hollywood offered groundbreaking depictions of gay life in My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Brokeback Mountain in 2005. By the end of the oughts’, gay culture and gay life became part of America’s national discourse.


It is no accident that LGBTQ rights in America quickly advanced.


Submission Guidelines:


     We are soliciting essays representing diverse perspectives on how the evolution of archival practices and activist practices manifest in American political culture, popular culture activists culture etc. While an archival perspective (broadly conceived) is expected, authors are free to explore evolutions in LGBTQ cultures in America. Authors may consider exchanges or influences shared among civil rights movements      or may focus on      specific memory projects (Aids Memorial Quilt, Becoming Visible exhibit at New York Public Library).


We are especially interested in examining links between the archive (archives) and exposure (coming out) of openly gay politicians, representations in popular culture, etc. Study of the history of LGBTQ archives from community projects to prized additions to prestigious institutions are welcome. Study of public memorials or statues as well as the examination of individual activists engaged in memory practices (broadly conceived) are similarly welcome.


Questions and Abstracts:

Ben Alexander:

Mary Foltz:



May 15, 2000 word abstracts due

June 15, notification of accepted abstracts

September 15, completed (5000 word) articles due