Library acquires LGBT records

Over 30 years’ worth of legal records documenting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history will find a home in Yale’s library.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is donating many of its legal records to Manuscripts and Archives in Sterling Memorial Library. Most of the resources, which range from photographs to financial records, will be open to researchers in early 2011. Yale will continue to receive records from GLAD as the organization releases more documents over the next 25 years, said Mary Caldera, an archivist at Manuscripts and Archives.

“We think of this as a long term partnership with [GLAD],” Caldera said. “The materials that we’re getting from them are all really interesting and will highlight a lot of issues in LGBT rights work.”

The records cover major social changes and legal developments in contemporary LGBT history, such as political battles over same-sex marriage, the “gayby boom” — or the trend of same-sex couples becoming parents — and the HIV crisis.

George Chauncey, the co-director of the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities, has been working with GLAD to secure the donation for the past three years. He said the records are an “unparalleled resource” that will help historians understand modern anti-gay discrimination and the legal strategies used to fight this discrimination.

“[GLAD has] really been a pioneering litigation group that has won some very important advances for LGBT people,” Chauncey said, “and when I happened to hear that they had not decided what to do with their records, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for Yale.”

GLAD made national news when it successfully pushed for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 and in Connecticut in 2008. Clarissa Cunningham, the organization’s director of public affairs and education, said GLAD was still a small organization when gay marriage passed in Massachusetts. GLAD staff were flooded with international media calls, Cunningham said, and volunteers had to scramble to take notes on the pink message pads they had at hand — now preserved as part of the collection.

Caldera said the library has been working to expand its collection on LGBT history — which she described as “one of the best in the country” — for about eight years. Caldera said the GLAD records are the first legal documents concerning LGBT rights that the University has acquired.

“I think it does fill in that gap in the legal component of LGBT study,” Caldera said. “[The records are] really giving a picture of that kind of public policy advocacy, legal advocacy, that is going on in the LGBT rights movement right now.”

Yale will receive GLAD’s records from Bragdon v. Abbott, a 1998 Supreme Court case declaring that people with HIV are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as records from Fricke v. Lynch, a 1980 suit against a Rhode Island school board to allow a male high school student to bring a male date to his senior prom.

Cunningham said one of the most interesting parts of the new Yale collection is a library of notes from GLAD’s legal information telephone line dating back to the organization’s founding in 1978. The calls, which deal with issues such as police harassment, entrapment, HIV, marriage and children, give a vivid picture of the LGBT movement’s grassroots history, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said GLAD respected client confidentiality by soliciting clients to donate their case files to Yale. Most of the clients agreed to share their case files, although some wanted to read them first, she said. The organization will donate more documents over the next year, but some strategic and legal documents cannot be released yet, Cunningham said, especially in cases that are still ongoing or explain legal strategies GLAD still uses.

Chauncey said the University will honor GLAD’s timeline for releasing documents, adding that “it’s entirely up to GLAD which records they want to transfer to Yale at any given time.”

Natalia Thompson ’13, who is majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, said she is excited about the acquisition because many of her fellow WGSS students are also activists.

“For those of us who are interested or active in queer politics, these records will provide a direct connection to recent LGBT rights battles,” Thompson said.

GLAD was founded in 1978 in response to a series of anti-gay government actions in Boston.

Correction: December 1, 2010

An earlier version of this article did not list the class years of George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89.

Comments

  • Mikelawyr2

    What do you say we add this to “That’s Why I Chose Yale”?

  • Sillitar13

    ^ Agreed. This is pretty incredible.