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Protecting our past: The Lesbian and Gay Archive - Pt 2.

Sun 21 May 2006 In: Community

In part one of this two part series we traced the origins of the lesbian and gay archives, including their contribution to the fight for Homosexual Law Reform. Late at night on September 11, 1986, barely two months after Parliament passed the Homosexual Law Reform bill, intruders broke into the National Gay Rights Coalition offices. They started fires in half a dozen locations. They defecated in the archive's stackroom and painted the word 'FAG' on the floor. The Wellington fire brigade responded quickly, extinguishing the flames before significant damage could be done. But it was a close thing, the LGRRC was lucky. "Some material was lost to smoke damage, a few things were destroyed, but most of the collection survived intact," says long-time curator Phil Parkinson. The police were not particularly interested in pursuing the investigation, concluding that "as there were gays involved it must be some sort of internal vendetta!" They also weren't impressed with a pile of old campaign stickers they found on the floor reading, "Speak up! Call the police queer bashers!" Parkinson recalls with a wry smile. A team of people evacuated the collection, some of which suffered water damage despite the fire brigade's best efforts. The Alexander Turnbull Library was distressed at such wanton destruction, and provided space in their Courtney Place facility for the restoration and storage of the collection. The National Librarian acknowledged the intrinsic value of the collection, saying in a letter of support: "Any action which aims to destroy collections of the national record is unjustifiable, more so when a small collection with unique material is involved... [this collection is] part of the wider collections of New Zealand's social, political and economic history… [and is] a unique resource of value to contemporary and future researchers." The association between the archives and the Alexander Turnbull Library remains to this day, and has proved invaluable in enabling the collection to rise from the ashes and to be maintained for future generations. In 1988, the newly named Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand (LAGANZ) formalised its relationship with the library, and the entire collection was transferred to the current Molesworth Street location, across the street from Parliament. Since the heady days of law reform in 1986 LAGANZ has contributed to other significant campaigns for lesbian and gay rights. Parliament finally voted anti-discrimination provisions into law with the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1993. And more recently, LAGANZ provided material for researchers and activists working on the prostitution reform and civil union campaigns. The archives house gay MP Tim Barnett's papers associated with both those campaigns. However, the archives hold far more of interest than just documents concerning legislative change. While battles were waged in Parliament and the press, lesbian and gay people continued living their lives and associating in their communities. People kept thinking, discussing and writing on issues of sexuality and health. And many of these writings are stored by LAGANZ. There are around 600 distinct archival collections, about 6000 books, plus pamphlets, posters, ephemera, a large collection of audiotapes, some photographic collections and original video material. By design, LAGANZ tries not to duplicate material found in academic libraries. Instead, the archives collect the documents of mainstream lesbian and gay New Zealanders, who work, pay bills, raise children, and come together not just to agitate, but also to celebrate. Through the archived gay news media; in the faces of our lesbian and gay elders captured on film for posterity, a dynamic and diverse community emerges. United by a shared sense of what it means to live on the fringes of society. A society that, in part, is still coming to terms with us. LAGANZ remains, to this day, at the coalface of the lesbian and gay communities. Much of the collection is found nowhere else, and new material is continually added. From the Dorian Society of the 1960s to hot-off-the-press scene reporting of yesterday, the collection is a living record of a larger-than-life community. It's a story that never ends and Phil Parkinson has been a key witness to the story thus far. Parkinson has been so intimately involved for such a long time, he now feels it is time to move on, after ensuring LAGANZ is in safe hands. He is exploring other avenues, such as an old interest in small land snails. He defines himself in far broader terms than his sexual orientation. Gay community involvement marks an important phase of my life, but it is only one aspect of my interests. Natural history, early music and algae have been others. I'm starting to think of myself as a bit 'post-gay' – what ever that might come to mean. But it is important to me that the social history of the diverse lesbian and gay communities survives.” And thanks to Phil Parkinson, and others like him, our history does survive, accessible to all. Editor's note: Throughout the coming weeks, GayNZ.com is acknowledging and celebrating the difference made in the lives of glbt New Zealanders by the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill on 8 July 1986. In specially commissioned features we are exploring life before and after reform, and the contributions of those who made such a difference to our lives. We'll recall the homophobes who opposed our freedom and the heroes who finally convinced Parliament to set us free. We'll take you into the public and private lives of glbt folk with stories to tell and records to set, er.. straight. If you have a story to tell or a perspective to share, contact us through the link button below. Your contribution is warmly welcomed.     David K Parrish - 21st May 2006

Credit: David K Parrish

First published: Sunday, 21st May 2006 - 12:00pm

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