LGBTQ Archives & Primary Source Collections

Researching LGBTQ history can be complex, interdisciplinary, and involves primary source materials that are categorized in many different ways. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the archival collections that are available online.

Using the search tool ArchiveGrid is a great way to start exploring related materials about a person or a topic in a broad sense – keeping in mind that individual collections may not be digitally accessible, and are likely be found in multiple geographic locations. A search for the HIV/AIDS activist group ACT UP, for example, yields results from the organization’s individual chapters across the United States, as well as the ACT UP Oral History Project, and personal papers at various institutions.

In New York City alone, there are multiple sites where LGBTQ-related materials are held. The LGBT Community Center has 163 collections of mostly personal papers relating to individuals, alongside a few relating to events or institutions – The Lesbian Switchboard of New York City, Inc. Records, Gay Games IV, etc. – as well as a browsable set of images. The Lesbian Herstory Archives hosts portions of its vast collections online, including newsletters and photographs.

The New York Public Library offers online access to organizational collections, including “The Mattachine Society of New York Records, 1951-1976; Gay Activists Alliance, 1970-1983; and ACT UP: The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power,” and more. One of its three research libraries, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Queer Studies Collection contains material related to Jewelle Gomez, Storḿé DeLarveríé, Assotto Saint, and other cultural luminaries active between the years 1921-2014.

The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives are housed at the University of California, and indexed by the Online Archive of California, with indicators of which items are available online. Originally based on the records of ONE magazine, the collection includes extensive material about the early 1950s-era homophile movement in the United States. Located in nearby West Hollywood are the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, though there is limited content currently available online (images of buttons and t-shirts). San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society is another resource for digital material, with coverage of Bay Area newspapers, individuals, and culture.

The Digital Transgender Archive is an excellent search portal that helps bring together material form various online sources: you can search by topic (gender identity, drag queens, discos, etc.), genre (periodicals, photographs), and on a movable map. Their Global Terms section can be useful as a guide to different cultural terminology, though the content currently has more of a Western focus. The newspaper and periodical clippings can be especially illuminating, and includes pre-1900 material regarding gender non-conforming behavior and related culture.

Lastly, an interesting project is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Commons, which seeks to cull all of the open access scholarship relating to these topics in one searchable site. Again, it may take a bit of persistent footwork to locate the precise materials you’re looking for on a topic – so be sure to reach out to a librarian for suggestions anytime.


About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.