Jan. 30, 2007

25 years of gay-rights struggles traced in online exhibit

The inner workings of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading national gay-rights organization, will soon go online at http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/HRC/. Highlights from the organization's paper trail -- strategic-planning documents, faxes, minutes, e-mails, press releases, posters and campaign buttons -- will be posted Feb. 8 in the online-only exhibition, "25 Years of Political Influence: The Records of the Human Rights Campaign." The physical collection opens to scholars the same day.

The HRC's records arrived at Cornell in 2004 with the support of Provost Biddy Martin, and curatorial staff have been managing them ever since. At 84 cubic feet, the HRC's records constitute the second-largest of 225 collections within the Human Sexuality Collection in Cornell Library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

"These records offer a sometimes messy, behind-the-scenes look at how a national organization really functions and adapts," says Brenda Marston, the HRC collection's curator.

Founded in 1980, the HRC claims 600,000 members. On Feb. 8 HRC President Joe Solomonese will attend a reception to launch the exhibition at 4 p.m. and deliver a talk at 5 p.m. in Kroch Library. The events are free and open to the public.

Amy Villarejo, director of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, says, "Our students and colleagues will now have guidance for understanding the history of political struggles around LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues. The online guide will be a fabulous teaching tool, and student research will help continue the work HRC has done to fight on behalf of LGBT people."

The HRC entrusted its records to Cornell over the Library of Congress and other contenders. "It was the intensity of our commitment to documenting LGBT politics nationally and our wider commitment to documenting human rights," Marston says. "We showed the HRC staff our French Revolution, anti-slavery and women's suffrage collections. All these materials are used in classes, in undergraduate and graduate research and by researchers around the world. The HRC liked what we wanted to do with their records."

Vicki Eaklor, professor of history at Alfred University who edited the memoirs of HRC founder Steve Endean, conducts research at Cornell. "This is a rich resource," she says. "The HRC is the nation's largest and most powerful LGBT rights organization, and having access to its papers will help us all gain a better understanding of not only its history but of political life in late-20th-century America."

The library's online exhibit offers highlights of the HRC collection as well as videos of demonstrations and AIDS activism in a section that outlines the past 60 years of national LGBT activism. "The exhibit provides incredible context for understanding the collection," Marston says. "We got the records and a detailed finding guide ready for researchers quickly. The HRC records are the capstone to our effort to document LGBT politics nationally because they show the nation's movement forward. Researchers will be able to study them in conjunction with the records of other important LGBT organizations already in the Human Sexuality Collection."

The exhibition is sponsored by the Office of the Provost; Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies; the Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies Program; and Cornell University Library.