James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Saturday, October 31, 2015

T-Shirts Put the Text in Textile

Workers Conference Against Briggs/Proposition 6, [1978]

Admit it.

You have a drawer full of T-shirts at home.

Maybe even more than one!

Don't sweat it.

You are not alone.

I have a few drawers of T-shirts and I can't bear to part with some because of their sentimental value. A few are as unsullied as the day I got them. While most are well loved, threadbare, and stained--but clean!

So why am I writing about T-shirts?

Gay Freedom Day, 1978
Well, it might surprise you to know that the Hormel Center archives contain more than just paper, photographs, and audio-visual recordings. We have clothing here, too. Most of it in the form of T-shirts!

Though often dismissed as less important than their paper counterparts, T-shirts document particular moments in time through a combination of text, graphic design, and fabric. They are the wearable version of banners, leaflets, broadsides, and posters.

Lesbians & Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action, undated

Rubys, undated
I've selected a handful of shirts from the Nancy Tucker T-Shirt Collection (GLC 25). Usually these were produced to celebrate an event or organization. Gay pride parades, film festivals, walk-a-thons, bars and dance clubs, rallies, marches, and political actions are a few of the subjects that T-shirts memorialize. You'll notice a few of the annual Pride parades, the bar Rubys, Pets Are Wonderful Support, LGADDA, Living Sober, and a rally against the Briggs Initiative.

PAWS, Pets Are Wonderful Support, San Francisco, undated

Living Sober, San Francisco, 1986
The Nancy Tucker T-shirt Collection is not the only collection with T-shirts. The Barbara Grier-Naiad Press Collection also has a large number of shirts for Naiad press books, lesbian bookstores, and events. Several smaller collections contain T-shirts as well. These pieces of memorabilia usually get worn to threads and then turned into rags for house cleaning. Fortunately, some folks have saved their T-shirts and given them to the library.

Gay Freedom Day, San Francisco, 1980

San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade & Celebration, 1994

Film historian Jenni Olson brought a great website to my attention. Wearing Gay History has a fantastic database with images of T-shirts and additional information on creators, dates, etc. I have had a wonderful time exploring the images there. It contains photos of shirts from several different libraries and archives.

Freedom '92 [San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day, 1992]
What's fun about shirts, and any other sort of memorabilia, is that they are produced for a specific event. Those memories bubble to the surface when we wear, hold or see these items again. It is a way to reminisce that engages our visual and tactile senses. And it's proof that a historical document can be written on fabric just as easily as on paper. I invite you to take a moment today to look through your T-shirt drawer. And remember.

The Nancy Tucker T-Shirt Collection (GLC 25) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Teach Your Children Well

Texas--Action Alerts (GLC 104 Box 8), [1994]
It's Banned Books Week. And I have a short story about censorship to share. It's tucked inside the folders of the Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records (GLC 104). So it might have escaped your notice.

In 1994 Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the school texbook Holt Health. The Texas Board of Education (BOE) considered it for adoption statewide. After examining the book, the Texas BOE submitted "corrections" to Holt for the book's references to homosexuality, the use of condoms, some anatomical drawings, etc. The BOE felt that the book advocated homosexuality, the use of condoms, etc. They did not agree that such references were simply factual information provided to educate youth. Holt refused to make the changes, refused to censor the book. As a result, Holt, Rinehart and Winston lost a great deal of revenue from the $7.5 million Texas textbook market.

Texas--Action Alerts (GLC 104 Box 8)
Naturally, there is more to this story than the final act. When I looked through the Texas files in the collection, I found clippings, letters and reports that throw additional light on the context of this story. There's a 1991 article about the Texas BOE that emphasizes the importance of accurate information in textbooks. It reminds us that textbooks and curricula lay the groundwork for the next generation. Then there's Robert Birle's letter in early 1992 that describes GLAAD's presentation to the Texas BOE, textbook publishers, and others. The letter captures the excitement of the moment. Taken all together, it is interesting, eye-opening, and well-documented activism.

This story demonstrates the positive effect that can be realized with diligence and hard work. It is just one example of the advocacy that was the hallmark of GLAAD's Project 21 and the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project.

Robert Birle letter to Jessea Greenman, January 16, 1992

The Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records (GLC 104) document the activity of the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project, and its predecessor GLAAD's Project 21. P.E.R.S.O.N. stands for Public Education Regarding Sexual Orientation Nationally. Both projects worked to ensure that the public schools in the United States would present fair, unbiased and accurate information regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and about the nature and diversity of sexual orientation. Jessea Greenman was a principal team member of both projects.

P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Manual, page 1
The P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records contain correspondence, reports, newspaper and magazine clippings, and information collected on textbook policies throughout the United States. In addition there are books, training manuals, and audio-visual materials on the subject of GLBT issues. The collection is strongest in its coverage of California, Texas, and the Mid-America Region.

The GLAAD Project 21 series appears to be a combination of Jessea Greenman's and Robert Birle's files. The most voluminous material documents the success of the lobbying and activism for health textbook reform in the State of Texas. In addition, there is research material on numerous subjects that directly relate to the GLBT community and youth. These subjects include AIDS and HIV, the Boy Scouts of America, gender issues, family life, sex education, hate violence, religion and religious opposition, students, and suicide. As I looked through the subject files, I was reminded of the furor caused by Bert and Ernie's cohabitation. It shows that nothing was too small to clip when it concerned youth and their awareness of LGBT issues.

There are additional materials on organizations, such as GLAAD and PFLAG, with a focus on youth and/or GLBT issues, and on the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project's volunteers and organizational manual.  The Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.