From His Story To Our History
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
By: Nevin Öztop
“If homosexuals are to gain any power is is [sic] to be by first getting some publicity, and some of that publicity must be in the form of the written word”
This quote can be found in the 1991 Friends of Homodok Society Journal Amsterdam. This journal, produced by Terrence (William) Cooke and Martin Nel, sought to expose the need for collecting, documenting, understanding and sharing gay and lesbian history. Cooke died in 1992 from the consequences of AIDS, but his whole personal collection of cards, photographs, audio-visual tapes and letters, has been preserved by IHLIA, successor to Homodok and an international gay/lesbian library, archive information and documentation centre. Without these unique documents we would probably never have known the special and colourful person Cooke had been (besides a gay activist, we know he also was a writer, historian, barman, artist and actor) and what he contributed to LGBTI life.
The Cooke Collection, as it is known, consists of literally thousands of personal and “Dear Dolly” letters spanning more than two decades from lesbians and gays across the world. It reflects the lives of a close group of friends, particularly in London and Amsterdam, and reveals the new struggle of AIDS, civil rights and asylum issues in the early ‘70s through to the early ‘90s, experiences of being arrested, a strong sense of gay identity and also practical advice on creating archives of gay/lesbian letters and stamps. When seen as a whole these letters become a “tapestry of voices”, according to Cooke. Such a tapestry can ensure that future generations will have a glimpse of what gay life looked like during this era.
Cooke’s personal story is one of many. There are also important LGBTI movement stories to tell. One example is Kaos GL in Turkey, a partner in IHLIA’s Open Up! Project, which aims to digitise and disclose a substantial archive of LGBTI periodicals and organisational documents related to central, eastern and southeastern Europe. The history of Kaos GL begins in 1993 with black & white photocopied magazines which were “illegally” distributed in the streets of various places in Turkey. The editor-in-chief of the magazine, Nevin Öztop, says that the content consisted of personal stories from people who were pushed to feel lonely and isolated; so people reading these stories would not feel alone or wrong. Only in July 2005, twelve years later, did Kaos GL become an official organisation and legalised by the Turkish government, thereby becoming the first registered LGBTI association in the country. This meant that they could receive funds and contribute more to the LGBTI community in Turkey.
Over the last couple of years Kaos GL, has evolved to become a broader social movement. Their motto “The liberation of homosexuals will also free heterosexuals” means their work has become important for other social groups and minorities in Turkey. This is one of the reasons why Kaos GL has won the European NGO’s network SOLIDAR’s Silver Rose Award 2012, a prize that helps raise the profile of individuals and organisations whose struggles contribute greatly to social justice and equality throughout the world.
With this dedication in mind, Öztop joins IHLIA’s voice in emphasizing the importance of preserving and passing on LGBTI history, whether written or oral. Kaos GL is one of many LGBTI organisations that is contributing its archive, in this case magazines, to IHLIA’s forthcoming Open Up! collection. As Öztop says, “The magazines don’t belong to only Kaos GL Association anymore, it is important that these go from hand to hand to lots of people.”
Another IHLIA initiative which stresses the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of LGBTI people is the conference on the future of LGBTI Histories of the International Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS), to be held in Amsterdam in August 2012. From what is understood about LGBTI materials and collections in mainstream libraries and archives, they are as a general rule poorly kept; there is often an atmosphere of taboo around homosexuality as a subject, leading to poor systems of making the information available. LGBTI ALMS hopes to change that, so LGBTI people can find out about their history, their heroes, the struggle for their rights. Lonneke van den Hoonaard, director of IHLIA: “We want them to explore the raw materials of the LGBTI experience. We want them to see the manuscripts of great LGBTI authors, we want to show them how our predecessors lobbied and lived and loved to create a world in which we all are part of the story.”
To prevent future stories of people like Cooke and movements like Kaos GL from being lost forever, collaboration between organisations and initiatives like Open Up! and ALMS are one way forward. This was nicely formulated by Cooke in his message of the need for friendship amongst groups who are all more or less interested in the same areas: “We hope to bring some of these people into contact with one another, especially (…) where there is more darkness than light.”
IHLIA is the International Homo/Lesbian Information Centre and Archive based in Amsterdam. For more information about IHLIA and the Open Up! and LGBTI ALMS initiatives, see www.ihlia.nl or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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