Crisis in the LGBT Community: We Are Losing Our History

by David Mixner
June 30, 2010

Aristotle once wrote,

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”

The quote contains enormous wisdom for young LGBT Americans. For them to understand the current epic battle for civil rights, they must understand how it emerged over time and was fashioned by heroes and heroines. The story of our journey is a magnificent one filled with amazing moments and astounding individuals. The LGBT community has emerged from a real greatness that must never be forgotten.

However, we are on the brink of losing a good portion of our history. Those individuals who fought in the trenches in the period from the 1950’s through the 1980’s are soon to become endangered species as more and more die from natural causes. As with World War II veterans, time is rapidly running out to capture their stories. The recent “New York Times” article on Stonewall pioneer lesbian Storme DeLarverie (photograph) reminds us all how important these stories are to be preserved for future generations.

Deeply aggravating the situation was the deliberate destruction of so much of our history during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the dark years of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. When some of our early pioneering activists died of HIV/AIDS their families, ashamed of them for both being gay and also dying of AIDS, destroyed any document, record or letter that would shine light on their journey as a homosexual. When I was organizing my papers for the “David Mixner Collection at Yale University,” I was shocked at what little information was left from the early stages of the movement. For example, thinking I had just one of thousands of newsletters printed by organizations in the 1970’s that no longer exist, I quickly found out that I had one of maybe a dozen that still survive! Entire sections of materials were erased by our families ashamed that we were homosexuals.

No sophisticated oral history project has surfaced and been well-financed to capture the remaining survivors of this period. Our LGBT pioneers are rapidly disappearing and along with them so are their stories. As the article on Storme illustrates, due to the stress of getting older, many who remain have trouble recalling details even now.

Our current young activists and future generations need to understand that we come from giants and a history of courage, dignity and bravery. Let’s not lose our storie to those who wanted to erase our journey. Time is running out …..quickly.