"I have something I want to show you," she said.
I followed her into the back room. There were shelves of white boxes with labels on the side. She took down a box and opened it.
"Look at these," she said and I gazed down at the black and white photos. They had to be at least 60 years old. The images of a gay wedding party from what looked like the 1940s or 1950s.
One photo was of the grooms dressed in suits exchanging vows with their best men by their sides, another photo was of the grooms sealing their nuptials with a kiss. They were beautiful photos that the newlyweds never got to see.
The photos had been donated to One Archives by an anonymous donor who as a young woman had worked for a photo developer. When he saw the photos he was outraged by this "indecency" and told her to destroy the negatives and the photos. She destroyed the negatives, but had held on to the photos hoping somehow to return them to the customers. She never found them, so she made the decision to donate them to ONE Archives, an LGBTQ archive in Los Angeles.
I've been donating items to ONE for their marriage equality collection (T-shirts from Californians for Same-Sex Marriage from 2001, flyers from the Marriage Equality California marriage license counter events from 2002, random notes and photos)and I wanted to learn more about ONE, so last week I toured the archives.
In 1952, Jim Kepner and several members of the Mattachine Society formed ONE Inc. They took their name from the Thomas Carlyle quote, "the mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men One." All sexism aside, the founders connected to the spiritual concept of Oneness and that we truly are all related.
In January 1953 the organization published the first issue of ONE Magazine, which ran as a monthly periodical until 1967 and would become the first widely distributed LGBT publication in the United States. After the discontinuation of the magazine, One Institute and Kepner merged their collections of LGBTQ materials and became One Archives.
The archives are housed in an old frat building in the historic West Adams area of Los Angeles. In 2010, they signed a contract and became a part of the University of Southern California Library system. The Archives include "over two million archival items including periodicals, books, film, video and audio recordings, photographs, artworks, organizational records and personal papers."
They also boast that they have more than "30,000 volumes of books and monographs" in their periodicals section. They have old Just Outs from Portland, Southern Voices from Atlanta, and of course going way back copies of The Ladder and The Daughters of Bilitis.
The archives also have every LGBTQ button you can imagine and all kinds of T-shirts. They had T-shirts from a Black Gay bar in L.A. called Catch One, stickers from Queer Nation reading "We Recruit", picket signs from the 1960s, and magazines talking about "homosexual marriage" from 1953.
They even have an online digital gallery that you can see photos from 1972 of gay cops holding hands in the Christopher Street West Pride Parade, Rev. Troy Perry (founder of MCC) and marriage equality activist, Robin Tyler looking like the adorable Jackie from Puff the Magic Dragon in a tuxedo with a large bowtie. Simply adorable!
If you have some important items that should be archived please contact ONE. It's really important to have our history as LGBTQ people documented and it's important to archive the diversity of our varied communities and experiences.