PRIDE! Of the Community is a collection housed digitally with the UNCG library system that has been working to create a history of the Triad’s LGBTQ+ community for the past five years.
According to TriadHistory, “it is the first large-scale initiative” of its kind. Later this month, the creators of the project, David Gwynn and Stacey Krim, are bringing an exhibit on the Guilford Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Equality to the Greensboro History Museum on April 19.
I find their project fascinating, and arranged to meet with Stacey and David to hear their thoughts on this one-of-a-kind collection.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What did PRIDE! Of the Community start as and what has it become?
David: Oh, a couple years ago we identified that there was definitely a need for documenting LGBTQ+ history in the Triad area because nobody else was doing it. We decided at that point to apply for an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grant to do what was originally envisioned as a community scanning project.
We would go out into the community and allow people to bring in their materials so we could digitize them. We’d see things like newsletters, minutes, everything from bar flyers to t-shirts and all kinds of stuff. And we got a lot of that.
We worked with Guilford Green as our partner on the ground, and they allowed us to digitize a large part of their records to place online as well, but ultimately every time it migrated towards a more oral history-focused project. Which — is great! It’s not what we were originally planning for but it’s actually turned out really well.
Stacey: So, the LGBT community is generally viewed as a hidden community, as a marginalized community historically, and this is probably why we had to do oral histories to really make the collection work. If you know you could be arrested for being gay or fired or ostracized you are not going to save material. You are going to be very careful about having any material that indicates your personal identity.
For anyone doing LGBTQ history, it’s difficult to find the material, especially the farther back in time you go. It’s harder to get the communities’ point of view — you’re usually seeing the narrative from the outside community which is often acts of discrimination. That is reflected in our collection because you don’t see our materials really picking up until the ‘80s even though we know that Greensboro had a vibrant gay community at least in the ‘50s based on the fact that there was a gay purge in 1956 where the Greensboro Police specifically targeted gay men on Commerce Street and one of the clubs-
David: -and the bus station-
Stacey: -and the bus station. So, if you have a visible enough and a big enough community that the police are actively persecuting you, then we know it existed. The other obstacle was, well, certainly we interviewed people who are movers and shakers in the community. A lot of people, on an individual level, don’t view things they have as mattering — as being historically significant. They don’t see how a photograph of them with their partner is important.
So, when we started doing these oral histories we would go into people’s homes and we would see the photos on the wall. People would pull out photo albums and then all of a sudden we began making the connection that this material does exist. It’s just a matter of us building a personal relationship and trust with people in the community.
We don’t know what someone’s relationship with UNCG was in the past or if they have felt let down by another organization. Part of what we do is go out in a reparative fashion to say — that may have been the past, but this is who we are now and your story is important to us.
How did you two get started in LGBTQ+ activism?
Stacey: The way I entered all this is back, many years ago, I worked closely with the Safe Zone program. I made a presentation devoted to the LGBTQ history of UNCG. My motivation was less academic and more I wanted people — students, faculty and staff on our campus — to know that this is a community that has existed on our campus and it’s part of our community.
When I’m teaching classes and this topic comes up the student engagement ends up being through the roof. Students are fabulously interested in learning what’s happening at UNCG and what’s happening locally in the Triad. The ability of our students and our local community to feel strengthened by the representation and knowing that our institution feels this is important enough to pursue is really heartwarming. We’ve done this with several different types of digital initiatives, but I think David and I always have a special place in our heart for PRIDE! Of the Community.
David: Aside from the fact that I lived on the West Coast for 13 years, I’m a native of Greensboro too and actually did my undergraduate here. And, was the ‘annoying’ out gay guy in the ‘80s, so that’s where my street cred comes from I guess *laughter*. I was kind of in the inner workings of all the politics then you know, I managed the radio station and, and, annoyed the Carolinian people for a while.
Stacey: Yeah, that’s true *laughter*. David really has been such an asset because he was so entrenched in the social bar scene, and that was a group we were having a difficult time doing outreach to. But, it was a group that is so critical to Greensboro LGBTQ history because we were one of the few places in the South that would have two gay bars existing at the same time.
So, we’ve managed to get some oral histories through David’s contacts that have filled in a lot of blanks on social life that we were missing.
David: Yeah I think that’s an important picture of it too, because you obviously want the movers and shakers and the people with the big activist roles — but you want to capture everyday life too. You want normal people, not ‘normal people’, but *laughter* you know, people that weren’t in lofty political positions or well-known activists.
Stacey: A common question we ask was, “Where did you go to socialize?” Turns out either you went to a bar or you went to a potluck if you were going to socialize with people during a certain period.
David: Or you took your lawn chair and popped it up on Commerce Place at 2:30 in the morning *laughter*. People did!
What was the spark that brought you two together in this project?
Stacey: I had been trying to get an LGBTQ oral history project pushed through, I wanted to get donor funding for it, and that had been challenging. Part of it was my position at that time was the cello music archivist, *laughter* so I wasn’t as embedded and now I’m the manuscripts curator. It’s really my mission to have better representation in our collections.
David and I had kind of spoken about it, we both knew that one of our collection areas is local and regional history and in that we had virtually nothing related to LGBTQ history. The human rights foundation had voted us the friendliest city in North Carolina for LGBTQ populations, so fundamentally we were not representing our community in our collections.
That’s a big problem, it means we aren’t doing our job, so David was like, “Hey, this grant’s coming up, let’s apply for it.”
David: And we did!
Stacey: Yeah! And, we got it. It was right after HB2 so that probably helped. It was something we knew we had to do and we had time to do it.
David: And the initial phase of the grant purchased us some equipment that would allow us to go around to these events. The idea actually when we applied was saying well, we’re gonna get this equipment that we can then use for working with other communities too. So it wasn’t just for this project, but once the original funding ended we didn’t just stop we kept rolling with it.
Oftentimes, you get a grant to do a project then you move onto the next thing. But, we were looking at the grant as a way to get started and make it an ongoing thing.
Stacey: The mission of the university is closely tied to community outreach. And, certainly, our mission in the library is very much about making materials relating to local history and marginalized communities more readily available, so this was just the perfect fit.
We’re just gonna keep going until people stop contacting us essentially *laughter*.
The second half of this interview will be released next Tuesday, April 20th.
You can find PRIDE! Of the Community online here. Stacey Krim and David Gwynn are actively looking for more materials and people to give oral histories. If you are interested in speaking with them you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.