In the past year, the Neil Richards Collection for Sexual and Gender Diversity has begun expanding in a direction which may be surprising to many. Not only does this collection hold one of the widest arrays of queer literature in Canada, and not only does it contain numerous texts documenting the lives, struggles, and triumphs of LGBTQ2 persons from around the world – it now contains a small-but-growing selection of literature which may be considered by many LGBT or allies as homophobic, transphobic, or heterosexist. These are books which oppose or at the very least disagree with the goals of many LGBTQ2 persons, including anti-discrimination laws, same sex marriage, and the greater tolerance and acceptance of gay identity.
It may seem counter-intuitive to include materials of this ilk in a collection geared towards a creative and scholarly examination of differences of gender and sexuality. Indeed, texts which overtly denounce LGBTQ2 persons, which propose ways in which they can be “cured,” run exactly contrary to the spirit in which the Neil Richards Collection for Gender and Sexual Diversity was formed. Yet, without tracts of this nature, an important part of the history of gender and sexual diversity is lost.
If gay-negative texts were to be excluded from collections—if they were erased from history entirely– it would be easy to forget about the challenges faced by LGBTQ2 persons through time, and impossible to trace the ways in which society has evolved. In her article “Absence of Context: Gay Politics Without a Past,” Jen Manion makes the alarming observation that “the contemporary political movement for LGBTQ rights and equality has shown little interest in or . . . knowledge of [it’s] community’s history.” The loss of history for any community is a staggering blow, and it is this “dehistoricizing [of] queerness” that the Neil Richards Collection aims to combat. Only by preserving multiple aspects of queer history may a sense of community that stretches beyond spatial and temporal boundaries be formed, and only then may the suffering and successes of that community be fully understood.
Another significant reason for collecting anti-queer texts resides with societal accountability. Destroying texts which may be considered hateful does not erase that negative sentiment, but rather absolves the author of their words. On a large scale, the banishment of discriminatory literature provides a convenient reason to forget that discrimination and hate still exist within our society. If society is to be held accountable for discriminatory practices through time, evidence of that discrimination must be preserved. As Duff et al state in their 2013 study on the role archives and special collections may have in the realm of social justice : “Archival action . . . has the impact of raising awareness of inequality and discrimination,” which in turn leads to the “employment of intellectual and physical resources to challenge [those] inequalities.” Only by understanding historical imbalances can change come about.
The inclusion of such titles as Growing up Straight, Homosexuality: It’s Causes and Cure, and The Crises of Homosexuality in the Neil Richards Collection for Sexual and Gender Diversity may, at first glance, be surprising. However, making these texts available to researchers provides a larger window onto LGBTQ2 history than that given from the queer perspective alone. It is the hope that, by providing as full a picture as possible, queer history can be reclaimed and society can be reminded of its responsibilities towards a segment of the population that has long been marginalized.
Duff, Wendy ; Flinn, Andrew ; Suurtamm, Karen ; Wallace, David. Social justice impact of archives: a preliminary investigation. Archival Science, 2013, Vol.13(4), pp.317-348
Manion, Jen.The Absence of Context: Gay Politics without a Past. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking July 2014, Vol.1(2), pp.115-131.