The BML Videos collection now open to researchers

One of the larger collections that the NHPRC grant has brought to light in the archives is a videotape collection from the now disbanded group BML Videos. Coming in at just over 16 linear feet, this collection contains over 400 VHS and SVHS tapes created mainly during the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, documenting numerous LGBT events, contests, fairs, and performances in the Bay Area, including: Gay Softball League events; the Bare Chest, Cheeks & Chaps, Mr. South of Market, Mr. San Francisco Cowboy, Mr San Francisco Leather, Leather Daddy, International Ms Leather, International Mr. Drummer, and bodybuilding contests; events at the Eagle; Imperial Court coronations and celebrations; the Closet Ball; Folsom, Castro, Dore Alley and Mission Street Fairs; and Pride Parades. There is also video from the 1993 March on Washington and footage from bike and leather clubs and drag shows.

The BML Videos collection was donated to the GLBT Historical Society in 2014 and with it came, thankfully, an inventory of contents created by the collection donor (when a collection comes with any sort of inventory, archivists are generally happy campers). This inventory contains details about individual recordings that only the creator could know: who shot what footage, raw versus edited content, and exact video dates. As a research tool and supplemental guide, this inventory not only reveals valuable contextual information about the collection itself, but it also provides a useful map to help researchers better navigate the details of each recording.

But like many creator-produced collection inventories, the valuable information it contains doesn’t necessarily make practical sense to the public. To address this, an archival finding aid was created that not only contains basic collection information, such as the scope of the collection and how large it is, but also a simplified inventory, or container listing, that one can utilize to better understand the potential research value of the collection. This finding aid container listing is enhanced by viewing the donor’s inventory, making for a robust, multi-faceted collection guide when combined. It is a nice compromise between the MPLP practices we utilize here at the GLBT Historical Society archives and the more detailed item-level description that most archivists simply don’t have the luxury to carry out.

With the collection now fully processed, the BML Videos videotape collection (#2014-10) is open to researchers in the GLBT Historical Society archives. Guides for the collection can be found on the GLBT Historical Society’s website and on the Online Archive of California. To view items from the collection or the donor-created videotape inventory, please contact the archives team at reference@glbthistory.org.

We Got PRIDE!

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Film still from the 1979 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

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Film still from the 1974 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

One of the city’s most celebrated events, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is the culmination of LGBT Pride month events that take place over the month of June. More than just a parade, this whirlwind of rainbow flags, wild costumes, and celebratory smiles has been overflowing with love vibes since its beginning in 1970, when it was simply called the Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay-in. Over the last 45 years, the parade’s incarnations – Christopher Street West (1972), Gay Freedom Day (1973-1980), International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade (1981-1994), and as we know it today, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration (1995-present) – have upheld, at their core, the fundamental human right to love and be loved, without regard to gender, sexuality, creed, or politics. It is a day to celebrate both individualism and community, to share support and shout out loud, “Equality Without Exception!”

Here in the GLBTHS archives, snapshots – both figuratively and literally – of San Francisco Pride history can be found in nearly every collection. When the parade first began in the 1970s, a man named Lou Perica (#1991-15) took it upon himself to film some of the early parades. Spanning 1974 to 1981, Perica’s various Pride Parade films reveal a sampling of the figures, organizations, costumes and causes that have become so integral to LGBTQ history.

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Film still of Harvey Milk, 1975 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

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Film still of Harvey Milk, 1978 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

Perica’s footage of Harvey Milk seems to evoke the feeling that we are right alongside his convertible, up at the spectator line, glimpsing Milk as his political career was evolving, before and after the mustache. In what would be Milk’s last Pride Parade appearance before his tragic 1978 assassination, Perica’s film gives viewers today a glimpse of this charismatic individual. Through the Visions and Voices project, and with the digitization leadership of GLBTHS volunteer John Raines, we are able to bring to life the spirit of Milk within the context of this celebration.

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, 1981 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

Film still of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, 1981 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Lou Perica films (#1991-15)

The parade is not designed to discriminate; both participants and spectators come together during this one special day a year to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Perica’s films capture much of this communal spirit, placing viewers within a myriad of marching contingencies, from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the Dykes on Bikes and the Rainbow Deaf Society.

High Tech Gays, 1989  International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Spencer N. Nutting photographs (#1990-18)

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ACT UP, 1992 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Mark C. Goniwiecha photographs (#1998-15)

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1992 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Mark C. Goniwiecha photographs (#1998-15)

But films are not the only medium here in the GLBTHS archives in which past Pride Parades take form. With the growing prevalence of compact cameras in the 1970s and 80s, photo snapshots and the documentation of the day-to-day became more commonplace, and by the late 1980s and early 90s, the vast diversity of San Francisco Pride participants becomes crystal clear. In the Spencer N. Nutting photographs (#1990-18), for instance, images of the San Jose group the High Tech Gays marching in the 1989 Pride Parade are shown embracing the parade’s long held tradition of including witty yet poignant hand signs, with one reading “Nobody DOS it Better!” Similarly, the Mark C. Goniwiecha photographs (#1998-15) include the ACT UP contingency with a sign demanding “Earn Your Attitude ACT UP”, as well as the Stop AIDS Project – perhaps embracing the then popular Right Said Fred song – sporting a “No one is TOO SEXY for a condom”. Another Pride-rich collection, the Sabrina Mazzoni photographs (#2006-03), contains over one hundred various snapshots of different San Francisco Pride weekend events in the early 1990s (“Don’t Ask – It’s Clear We’re Queer!”/ “Don’t Tell – Thank God We’re Gay!”).

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ca.1993 International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, Sabrina Mazzoni photographs (#2006-03)

Without a doubt, the sampling of collections mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg in the GLBTHS archives’ documentation of the San Francisco Pride Parade. With this year’s event taking place in just a few days, one can look to these films and photographs not just as historical documents with enduring value (of course, they are), but as a reminder of how strong the LGBTQ community voice once was, is today, and will be long into the future.

To view any of these collections or discover others, stop in the archives on the  1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, or make an appointment at reference@glbthistory.org.

Notable Collections in April & May

Throughout the months of April and May, Visions and Voices uncovered more meaningful GLBTHS collections that capture much of the everyday social and cultural lives of LGBTQ individuals in the 20th century. During this two month working period, I advanced the Visions and Voices project by surveying 14 new collections, processing 12, and creating and posting finding aids for 4 collections of photographic and AV materials, bringing the project totals within reach of its stated goals. Progress!

KQEDTheCastroDVDIn early April, I set my sights on processing the KQED ‘The Castro’ videotapes (#2000-63). Containing 40 one inch reels of B rolls and interviews from KQED’s documentary on the Castro neighborhood – the third episode in KQED’s series “Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities of San Francisco” – the footage was utilized to create a cohesive narrative which aired in 1998, two years after filming took place. Highlighting subjects such as the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) police raid in 1965, the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Mascone in 1978, and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, “The Castro” integrates interviews with residents of the neighborhood to document the varied experiences of former Irish residents, gay men, lesbians, and queer youth. For more information on the program, please visit the KQED “Making of the Castro” page.

Another collection that emerged from the archives in April was the Harold O’Neal film collection (#2002-03) documenting the life’s work of filmmaker Harold O’Neal who started filming in 1939 and continued through the 1980s.  His films contain material about a wide variety of subjects on gay and general interest themes, including footage of the relocation of Japanese Americans to concentration camps in World War II, female impersonators performing at the Beige Room in San Francisco, gay men socializing in the 1940s, and gay freedom day parades from 1978-1980.

Because the O’Neal collection is in the process of being digitized (a separate project that is not part of the Visions and Voices NHPRC grant), I felt it an ideal opportunity for me to give the physical collection proper archival documentation. As of June, this 5.25 linear feet collection has been completely surveyed and is now awaiting completion of a finding aid, which will be posted on the GLBTHS section of the Online Archive of California as soon as it’s completed.

from the Bay Area Reporter article "Life beyond IML" by Mister Marcus

from the Bay Area Reporter article “Life beyond IML” by Mister Marcus

Moving on to May, an interesting group of photographs from the Koala’s Motorcycle Club Run (#2015-12) came across my processing tables. Although the collection is small – only 6 black and white photos dating from about 1967 – I was struck by the Koala’s members, including Peter Fiske, who are candidly socializing outdoors, dressed in leather caps and boots, denim vests and jeans. Surprisingly, while researching the history of the Koala’s Motorcycle Club, I came across an article written by Mister Marcus in the Bay Area Reporter titled “Life beyond IML”; in it, an image is used that closely resembles one of those found in the GLBTHS Koala Motorcycle Club Run collection that I was then working on. The caption for the image in the article reads:

“Group photo of the Koala’s Motorcycle Club of San Francisco in 1967. Note certain men with run buttons on their caps – a trademark among bike clubs in those days. Also note lower right hand photo of a much younger Peter Fiske. photo: The Late Henri Leleu”.

This one caption helped me to understand so much contextual information about this small collection of photographs: the year, names, and photographer of the images, which I then integrated into the catalog record.  Researching is always a vital part in processing any archival collection, but rarely do such specific details surface.

With so many interesting collections emerging and more collections to be discovered, Visions and Voices is proving an extremely valuable tool in shedding light on forgotten and fading narratives. Other noteworthy collections that have surfaced in April and May include: the William A. Longen videotapes (#2008-31) of KTVU news segments documenting LGBTQ communities and events from 1977 to 1997 within the Bay Area; the Audrey Joseph collection of VHS videotapes (#2008-30), trophies, posters, and ephemera documenting past International Ms. Leather and Ms. SF Leather events, International Mr. Leather and Mr. SF Leather events, Drummer events, and Club Townsend; and photographic and AV accretions to the William Struzenberg papers which contain various materials reflecting Struzenberg’s life as a student and artist, as well as his involvement with AIDS activism in ACT UP Golden Gate and ACT NOW.

Tracking Down Deeds of Gift

Thanks to the Visions and Voices grant, I was able to enlist the temporary help of Alex Barrows in tracking down deeds of gift for 110 GLBTHS photographic and AV collections. Within an archival institute like the GLBTHS, why do deeds even matter, and what is involved in obtaining one? Alex eloquently explains their necessity in the post below:


 During the months of April and May, I’ve had the opportunity to work under the GLBT Historical Society Project Archivist, Joanna Black, to track down missing deeds of gift for select collections pertinent to our NHPRC Visions and Voices project. My responsibilities for this include locating contact information for collection donors as well as undertaking provenance research both within and outside of collection files. At times, the simple task of double-checking and serendipitously coming across floating deeds helped the project along.

Signing a deed of gift is an invaluable step in donating materials to archives, as it documents the legal transfer of personal property from an individual or organization to the archives. As an instrument in writing, the deed of gift not only determines the levels of access and copyright status of the items being donated, but it also includes descriptive contextual information like the name of donor(s), their relationship to the records being donated, the date of the transfer of title, details on the materials to be donated, any restrictions of use, disposal criteria and, finally, the signatures of both the donor and the recipient (archives). Written in consistent and unambiguous language, the deed is a document that is in the best interest of both the donor(s) and the archives. While it is inherently formal, it can be customized to reflect any of the donor’s wishes.

For example, if the donor feels that restrictions must be put into place to protect the privacy of individuals named in a collection, it can be specified as such in the deed of gift. If a donor would prefer that any residual materials or items that we cannot keep (ie, duplicates, medical records) be returned to them, we can include the appropriate language to honor such a request in the deed. If a donor wishes to retain copyright for the items they have donated, we can also make this explicitly clear in the document. Overall, the deed is an opportunity for the donor’s needs to be expressed through clear and enduring documentation, which will continue to guide how a collection is maintained on our shelves.

Ideally, a deed of gift is intentionally written up and signed by both a representative of the archives and the donor after a period of consultation and negotiation between both parties. In working on this project, I find it is important to accept the fact that the more formal gestures of archival practice are sometimes put aside during times of crisis and grief—themes that make up the historical context in which the GLBT Historical Society was originally founded. “Informal” archiving is sometimes necessary when histories are in immediate jeopardy and face the perils of destruction or erasure. Retrogressively “formalizing” this paperwork is likewise a complicated endeavor, particularly in locating past donors and in summoning up difficult, if not displaced, memories.

In going over the collections with missing deeds (which started out as 130 collections), we were able to weed out about 20 items. Artificially-created collections, for example, such as our ephemera collections, do not need deeds of gifts. Items that were abandoned, dumped at the archives’ door or that cannot be traced back to their donors do not require deeds.

As of the third week of May: 11 deeds out of the remaining 110 deeds were found. 5 out of the 110 deeds were signed and returned to us.

For me, it has been somewhat exciting to contact people I think of as “collection celebrities”—donors of collections I particularly admire, archivists of GLBT histories and names I have only learnt about in history books. Overall, the Deed of Gift project has been a key tool not only in reaching out to donors of the past and present but in educating ourselves and our patrons of the importance of this kind of paperwork.

– Alex Barrows

Notable Collections in March

color photographs from the exhibition ‘55 x 1’ by Victor Arimondi (#2000-13)

Color photographs from the exhibition ‘55 x 1’ by Victor Arimondi (#2000-13)

March marked the 2nd month of my work on the NHPRC grant-funded project Visions and Voices in GLBT History. While immersing myself in archival materials the way an archivist often must (by painstakingly identifying, implementing, and documenting a logical physical and intellectual arrangement, among other things, in order to facilitate public access), it can be difficult to remain emotionless when examining evidence of the difficulties and struggles experienced by individuals of the past. One particular period in LGBTQ Bay Area history — the HIV/AIDS crisis beginning in the 1980s — permeates much of the narratives in the GLBTHS archives. Through looking at the photographs, videos, and listening to the audio recordings captured around this seminal period, it is obvious the depth of grief and anger felt by many who bore witness. And while the emotion is evident, preserved in the documents which serve often as outlets of grief, it is diverse, complicated, and in some primal way, beautiful.

Color photographs from the exhibition ‘55 x 1’ by Victor Arimondi

Color photographs from the exhibition ‘55 x 1’ by Victor Arimondi

In a collection of photographs by Vitorio (Victor) Arimondi (#2000-13), he employs an artful eye to memorialize male models who posed for his early photographs and later died from HIV/AIDS. In each image within this collection, an altar of sorts is set around a framed photograph of the late model, along with subtle reminders of the impact of AIDS. Another collection in the archives, the Molly Hogan videotapes (#1992-10), contains an array of videotapes documenting the vast effects of HIV/AIDS within Bay Area communities, from training videos of the grief group the Shanti Project to the closure of San Francisco bathhouses due to the city’s fear that the establishments encouraged the spread of HIV. With the loss of life as well as the loss of cultural and social outlets, HIV/AIDS threw a dark cloak over both space and time in San Franciscan LGBTQ communities.

An image from the John Osterkorn photograph portfolio

An image from the John Osterkorn photograph portfolio

It is stunning that in all the sadness of HIV/AIDS, there exists in LGBTQ communities a power to endure, act, and transform in a positive way. The John Osterkorn photograph portfolio (#2015-10) documents work produced through the group Visual Aid, which helps produce, present, and preserve work by artists affected by HIV/AIDS. Another collection, the David Bandy collection (#2002-30), documents concert promoter David Bandy’s intent to bring entertainment and social events to the public during a period of increasing communal grief.

As Visions and Voices forges on in the coming months, the complex narratives surrounding HIV/AIDS history in the Bay Area will continue to surface. It is my task to give them a louder, more public voice by protecting, preparing, and promoting their access to the public.

February’s Progress

GLBTHS Archives

GLBTHS Archives

When I began working on Visions and Voices in February 2015, the project’s goals had already been established: survey approximately 200 linear feet of AV and photographic materials; process approximately 150 linear feet of AV and photographic materials; update approximately 100 catalog records on the GLBTHS website; create and post EAD finding aids for those collections large enough to warrant them on the OAC website; and publicize the project and its methods. My predecessor, Juliet, had accomplished a great deal of work toward these goals, having already surveyed 63.3 linear feet of collection material, processed 40.4 linear feet, updated 31 catalog records, and added 18 records to the OAC, with over a quarter of the project completed by the time I took over.

GLBTHS video collection

GLBTHS video collection

I jumped right in on my first day, taking over where Juliet left off. First, I oriented myself within the GLBTHS archives, its physical set-up, and the GLBTHS collection databases. Then I began taking inventories of what specific collections had already been surveyed, processed, and posted online, in order to better understand the current state of Visions and Voices. By the end of February, my first month on the job, I had surveyed 33.25 linear feet, processed 27.2 linear feet, updated 23 catalog records, and added 2 new finding aids to OAC, in addition to what Juliet had already accomplished. During this time, I came across many fascinating collections, such as the Steven Grossman collection (#1996-39); the J. D. Wade photographs (#1996-43) that document the States Line Steamship Company picket during the late spring of 1969; a collection of World War II era photographs (#2000-23); and the Jeffrey Kriger photographs (#1995-10).

J.D. Wade photographs (#1996-43)

J.D. Wade photographs (#1996-43)

Between Juliet’s work and mine, Visions and Voices was on its way to being almost half complete as of March 1st. Now as I write this on April 1st, I can attest that March has been equally productive, despite the departure of the archive’s managing archivist, Marjorie Bryer, in late February. But what exactly surfaced in the archives during the month of March? What collections emerged from the controlled chaos of the stacks, in need of the kind of attention only an archivist can give? More on this soon…