Queer history reflects present day

LGBTQA community advocate Pablo Alvarez reads an excerpt from the book “Queer in Aztlan” during the reception at the West Gallery, located on the second floor of the Campus Center. A reception for the exhibition, “The Child and the Archive: Locating a Queer Past to Establish a Queer Present,” was held Oct. 9. As a gay Hispanic male Alvarez said he believes it is important for the archive to travel to spread awareness. / photo by Emily Bieker
LGBTQA community advocate Pablo Alvarez reads an excerpt from the book “Queer in Aztlan” during the reception at the West Gallery, located on the second floor of the Campus Center. A reception for the exhibition, “The Child and the Archive: Locating a Queer Past to Establish a Queer Present,” was held Oct. 9. As a gay Hispanic male Alvarez said he believes it is important for the archive to travel to spread awareness. / photo by Emily Bieker

Kristina Bugante
Editor in Chief

“The Child and the Archive: Locating a Queer Past to Establish a Queer Present,” an archival exhibit that was on display in the West Gallery of the Campus Center, showcased numerous artifacts that documented the past experiences of the LGBT community in Los Angeles and around the United States.

Katrina Sire, adjunct writing professor, created the exhibit and was inspired by her experiences at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York and the ONE Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles, alongside her friend Pablo Alvarez’s exhibit “Queer Latinidad: A History of HIV/AIDS Art Consciousness in L.A.”

“A lot of times we like to think of queer culture as current, or something that’s a new wave, when it’s actually been happening a very long time,” Sire said.

“The more I learn about queer history, the more I realize how connected it is with our national history — that a lot of these rights that are being acquired for humans as a whole may have queer roots,” she said.

When Sire was in New York at the Herstory Archives, she became fascinated with the Lesbian Avengers, a direct action group that focused on lesbian visibility and survival.

She was able to obtain materials focused on the Lesbian Avengers, which were on display at the gallery, most notably the cover of “The Lesbian Avenger Handbook” that promoted strong visuals to aid lesbian activism and demonstration.

“Queer Latinidad,” an archival display that Alvarez previously showed in 2012, highlighted the work of Gil Cuadros, an openly gay Latino writer, poet and activist who grew up in La Verne. Cuadros died in 1996 of complications of AIDS.

A portion of “Queer Latinidad” was part of “The Child and the Archive” — most notably Cuadros’ critically acclaimed book “City of God,” which contains pose and poetry about the experiences of many gay children.

“When I was around 17 to 18 years old, I started to ask myself, ‘Where is my queer community?’” Alvarez said.

When he was in college he started researching the history of LGBT Latinos, especially in Los Angeles.

Through his research Alvarez was able to connect to many people who provided him with articles of Cuadros’ life — thus, he was able to develop his archive.

“He’s a very interesting writer in the sense that he didn’t just write about being gay and Latino, or he didn’t just write about living with HIV in Los Angeles,” Alvarez said.

“He wrote about a range of ideas and complexities that made up his own identity. When I read his work, I felt a strong connection to his writing as a writer myself,” he said.

Pat Rocco, a photographer and activist who focused his work on equal rights for gays and lesbians, shot almost all of the photographs at the exhibit.

There was a black-and-white photograph on display of Angela Douglas, an activist for transgender rights, who was active in the Gay Liberation Front.

Douglas was protesting the bar Barney’s Beanery for posting a sign that stated “Fagots (sic) Stay Out” in 1969 — Douglas’ response: “How gauche!”

Sire, who is fascinated with archiving as a form of activism, said there were many reasons why the exhibit was named “The Child and the Archive.”

“I’ve been studying Victorian literature for seven years, and as someone who’s a trained Victorianist, coming to queer history has been overwhelming and also incredibly exhilarating,” Sire said. “I feel like I’m very much a child when I enter the archive, and I’m discovering other children in a sense.”

Sire also noted how much her students enjoyed learning about queer history, though they were quite unfamiliar with it.

“Most of my queer students have been really interested in queer history because they find a lot of power and community in it,” Sire said. “It’s kind of peopling a landscape for them. It’s providing them with other people who have been in this space who are having similar experiences.”

Jolivette Mecenas, associate professor of writing, used to work for Out magazine and donated a few copies of the publication for the exhibit.

The January 1999 issue of Out, with Rufus Wainwright on the cover, was on display at the exhibit.

“Using ‘queer’ in this title is very specific, because queer is not necessarily LGBT, and LGBT is not necessarily queer,” Mecenas said. “‘Queer’ really speaks to an activism and history of activism in our community and an activism that some people have tried to be more inclusive; really recognizing how sexuality, gender, race and class are all really intertwined in many people’s struggles.”

The exhibit was part of the first National Coming Out Leo Pride celebration and sponsored by the Offices of Diversity and Inclusivity, Religious and Spiritual Life and Civic and Community Engagement.

Kristina Bugante can be reached at kristina.bugante@laverne.edu.

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