For many people with a passing knowledge of the gay movement, names like Harry Hay, Harvey Milk, Vito Russo, Paul Monette and David Mixner come easily to mind – men remembered as important activists and leaders, their places firmly etched in LGBT history.
But how many of us are as familiar with names like Del Martin, Barbara Gittings,
Jean O’Leary, Barbara Smith, Lilli Vincenz, Virginia Uribe, Robin Tyler, Ivy Bottini?
These and countless other women were also vital activists in the early decades of
the movement, when gay men often assumed prominent leadership roles and got more attention, while lesbians were left to create their own history at the edges of the stage, sometimes seeming almost invisible to the general public.
With the help of the City of West Hollywood, that history is being preserved at the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, the largest major repository of its kind on the West Coast. Since 1989, it has occupied a rent-free space in a city-owned building at 626. N. Robertson Blvd., also home to the ONE Archives Gallery and Museum, operated by the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.
“We have been collecting, protecting and preserving lesbian and feminist history
for three decades,” said Angela Brinskele, director of communications for the Mazer Archives. “We provide access and services to the public, including researchers to this material."
The Archives also present community events and exhibits regularly through the year, said Brinskele. Ninety percent of the collection is at the Robertson location, with five additional collections at the UCLA Research Library.
Founded in Oakland in 1981 as the West Coast Lesbian Collection, it moved to
Los Angeles six years later and took its present name after the death of June Mazer, a community activist and archive supporter. Today, the repository includes a century of lesbian and feminist artwork, manuscripts, books, records, publications, photographs, games, organizational papers, tapes, letters, scrapbooks, clothing, and flyers, largely donated by individuals and organizations.
“Lesbians of every generation know the feeling of thinking that they are ‘only one,’" Brinskele said. “Preserving this history and making it accessible enables us to never feel we are alone again. Also, we no longer have to start from scratch, reinventing the wheel. Knowing our history anchors us in a time and place within our culture and gives us a perspective from which we can view and understand what is happening in the present, as well as getting insight into the future.”
The support of West Hollywood, Brinskele added, “has been essential to our survival as a grass roots archive.”
The Mazer Archives is currently gearing up to co-host the Archives Libraries
Museums Special Collections Conference (ALMS), an international LGBT academic-focused conference, at Plummer Park May 12-15, in association with West Hollywood, UCLA Library, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women and ONE Archives.
Lillian Faderman, a noted author and leading scholar on lesbians and lesbian history, will be the keynote speaker. Among Faderman’s many nonfiction books is "Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians" (Scribners, 2006), co-authored with Stuart Timmons, which includes a
good deal of material on West Hollywood’s place in gay history, politics and culture.
The June L. Mazer Archives is open to the public every Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. and the first Sunday of the month by appointment. Because hours are subject to change, visitors are advised to first call 310-659-2478 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm days and times. Additional information can be found on the organization’s website.