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Our LGBT history is the future for tomorrow's LGBT adults

Editor's Note: On Friday, Feb. 27, the Lambda Archives hosted the third annual Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers Awards Gala at The Center. Frank Nobiletti, current president, and Sharna Langlais, membership chair, made some poignant remarks - and an impassioned plea - during their speeches; both of which followed the opening remarks of City Commissioner Nicole Ramirez-Murray. SDGLN thought what they had to say should be shared with the community at large, so here they are:

Sharna Langlais, Membership Chair; Remarks

This work of teaching our community’s history is one of the most vital components of what the Archives does. In this way, the Archives takes the history we collect and preserve, and gives it life again – inspiring a generation to learn about those that came before.

In Big Mike’s interview he said “We all stand on the shoulders of others, and Lambda Archives helps us remember whose shoulders we are standing on.”

History may not be the sexiest of causes, but it is absolutely vital to our community’s survival. Judy the Beauty reminded me in her interview that rights can be taken away and as such, repeated in her interview many times, “We cannot forget.”

Well, San Diego’s extremely lucky, because Lambda Archives exists so that we will not forget.

It is the stories of individuals like the trailblazers and pioneers we are honoring tonight, that MUST be preserved, that MUST be shared with future generations. Toni Atkins said in her interview “one day when we get to hear about our lives in the schools as we’re educated and our kids are educated, we’re going to need Lambda Archives’ storyline. We owe a great debt to Lambda Archives because they are the holder of our history.”

Lambda Archives IS the storybook – students and researchers come from all over the country to San Diego to flip to a chapter or a page in LGBT history - they can do that at Lambda Archives.

Sadly, the Archives took a hit last year, just like all non-profits did, but for us that hit was particularly difficult because it meant we lost our only paid person. The Archives has been existing since as a 100% volunteer-driven organization. This event was put on tonight with absolutely no paid staff.

And as a newcomer to this event, I was humbled in every moment that I sent out a call for help – we need a photographer, we need someone to design the program, we need help getting food from local restaurants. I have never seen a community come together so quickly, so passionately and so happily.

You heard Nicole’s exciting announcement about the work being done with the help of our Councilmembers to find a larger, more secure and exhibit-worthy space for the Archives. Seeing the turnout tonight, meeting all of you and feeling the passion and commitment of this community to its causes, I believe that this is the Archives’ chance to make a big leap into the future…to make its next mark as an organization on San Diego’s LGBT history.

So I’m asking, we’re asking, the voices of generations past are asking, for your help in making this leap. We need your support – there are so many ways to help but of course cold, hard cash is simple, easy and preferred. We also have membership opportunities, volunteer opportunities and pledge opportunities – a multi-year pledge of support would provide lasting stability.

Many of you have helped to create the current home we have for San Diego’s LGBT history – thank you SO much. And due to the success of our collection efforts, we’ve now outgrown that home. And I don’t know about you, but I’d LOVE to have a space where we can pull some of these treasures out of their boxes, dust them off and bring them into the light of day. Imagine a space in which we can share with the entire San Diego community, and beyond, the brilliance and glory of our LGBT history.

You heard Frank Buttino say that courage is contagious…tonight I’m hoping we can say the same about giving. Thank you.

Frank Nobiletti, President of Lambda Archives; Remarks

As a teacher of LGBT history, I want to urge you all to give support to our brothers and sisters being hunted down or persecuted in Uganda, and Kenya and Malawi, Iraq, etc. If you don’t know how to give support, ask me.

Well you heard what Nicole just said.

This is the vision of two of our most visionary leaders of the last half-century in this LGBT community: [Nicole being one] - Jess Jessop, the other, inspired and helped found two organizations in San Diego: The Center -- This Center—and the Archives.

Jess was a visionary like none other in our community. When he founded the Archives, as he was dying, he was trying to tell us how important knowing our history really is for our community.

To show you how tenuous keeping our history can be, take the Update collection. Update was a very significant LGBT publication in San Diego for 30 years. A few years ago when Update folded, all its records were headed for the dumpster.

It happens so easily – people are so easily overwhelmed during transitions.

But this time, a couple of sharp community women alerted one of our board members. They all got a pickup and saved file cabinet after file cabinet of pictures and community records – one day away from the dumpster!!!

And that’s just one example. There are many; and so many of them are sad examples of history lost BEFORE it gets to the Archives.

So what specific suggestions can I give you to reinforce Nicole’s and Jess’s and so many others’ vision - to take the Archives to another level?

1. Give a Signal that you’ll be giving on a sustained basis: a mult-year pledge -- 3 years or 5 years. Or, sign up for a monthly automatically recurring donation. Just $10 – or $50. That makes it possible for us to plan.

2. If you haven’t been to the Archives, come visit. You who are here tonight, know the value of the Archives, but some have never been. And, bring somebody else to visit Lambda Archives during open hours 4 days each week. The hours are always on our Web site. Bring them to see the Archives in action -- so they can feel the impact themselves and become a supporter.

3. We need more older community volunteers. The students WANT to meet you, want to work with you, want to talk with you.

4. Be alert to saving our history – and getting it to the Archives (but call about it first. If I didn’t remember to tell you that, our Archivist will kill me:)

If we can get the facility we hope for, what can you expect?

• You can expect a more visible Archives.

• An Archives always filled with displays and exhibits, including traveling exhibits.

• And at least twice as many young people as we took in at our peak, being transformed by their experience at Lambda Archives. We had to stop taking so many students this year because of both the economic squeeze and our space crunch.

Already Lambda Archives is known among historians as one of the best LGBT archives in the country. Forty of the best, most acknowledged historians of sexuality just visited Lambda Archives last month – and they raved!! We couldn’t move in the Archives - we were so squeezed in - but they RAVED about the Archives.

Scholars and researchers tell us things like “I’ve been looking 15 years for that pamphlet before I saw it in your on-line catalog.” That writer flew in from Tucson.


“You have Bandara Gay issue # 5? There’s not another copy researchers know of anywhere in the world at this point -- including Mexico!” Bandara Gay is a Tijuana paper.

So scholars know. Many students know. And we need our community to know that too.

We need, and are very, very grateful for, the support that our city officials are giving us, AND for the community’s support – yours. A big thank you to all those members and donors that sustain the Archives. You sure make my life easier.

We must get back to having at least one part-time staffer! We used to have 60 student volunteers per semester. We could place 120 students each semester! SDSU, UCSD, USD, Point Loma Nazarene University, community colleges. And high schools! But that takes at least a little staff, no?

It’s a bustling archive. You can see in the first 10 minutes at Lambda Archives that there’s amazing stuff there.

Yet pretend you are a LGBT youth. Or pretend you are a young, straight ally. What kind of an archive would make you feel stronger? What would give you more confidence in the LGBT community?

Say you came in today; you looked around [and saw]: an Archives [where] people are working on top of each other, where things are stacked on top or in front of other things for lack of space? Or, one that has the dignity of the LGBT archives in San Francisco or Los Angeles -- or Minneapolis -- or Ft Lauderdale’s LGBT library building!!

Surely San Diego can allocate more resources than Fort Lauderdale.

So, which would make our next generation stronger? And these are the LGBT kids who say time after time these days: “I never knew people in the past did this much for us.”

They are also the young, straight allies who say with anger and conviction over and over again: “I never knew how many ways LGBT people used to be (or still are) discriminated against.”

These young people are our future!

You know Nicole’s not getting any younger; you may all be, but not him. And not me either. I only have another couple [more] years that I can do this. I’ll be 70 in not too many years, and I can’t teach hundreds of students the History of Sexuality at SDSU, AND do this level of volunteering in my 70s!

You know, when people ask why I do this, and why I teach so many students, I say, “I don’t mind.” These days, I am glad to give back. In the 1960s and 70s I took my retirement when I was young.

And, I am very grateful and very proud of how much our country has changed for the better -- moved towards equal justice. And I know many of you are proud of how much has changed. (With plenty more to go, I know.)

Let’s pass along that Pride -- AND MORE to the next generations by saving and telling our history.

Is that right, Jess? Did you hear him, too, say, “Yes!!”?


Frank Nobiletti is the President of Lambda Archives, San Diego. An avid historian, he is also a professor of World and LGBT History at San Diego State University.