The Tidewater Queer History Project is Preserving Hampton Roads’ Gay Past

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All too often the queer history of many regions goes undocumented and is lost as LGBT elders pass away. Thanks to ODU lecturer Cathleen Rhodes and a small army of volunteers, the Tidewater Queer History Project has taken on the role as a steward for our area’s unique past.

One of the Project’s primary goals is the digitization of Our Own Community Press, the LGBT newspaper that served the Hampton Roads gay community for 20 years. Our Own editor Alicia Herr donated a complete archive of the newspaper to ODU’s Perry Library in 1998 after the paper folded.

Fifteen bound volumes are housed in a special collection, available to the public only through a visit to the library. Now, thanks to Rhodes and her team, the Tidewater Queer History Project is slogging through the laborious task of digitizing all 3,756 pages.

“The things in this paper were written about with the passion of the community,” said Leah Walker, one of Rhodes’ students and a volunteer who has spent countless hours digitizing the newspaper. “The more I go through it, the more I realize how important this information is.”

The collection spans the years from 1976 to 1998. Of historical note are articles on anti-gay campaigns by Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson; the murder of San Francisco city supervisor and gay rights activist, Harvey Milk; same-sex marriage; gays and religion; gays in the military; gays in the media; the AIDS epidemic; and news, organizations, and events related to gay and lesbian people on local, state, and national levels.

The Tidewater History Project is also in the process of producing a companion documentary. Rhodes and her team are interviewing dozens of LGBT Hampton Roads community members on camera. “The goal is two-fold,” she said. “One is to at some point to edit the footage into a cohesive documentary. Our secondary goal is well on its way to fruition: to preserve the first-hand memories of those people who played a role in Tidewater’s queer history.”

The TQHP also maintains a Facebook page where visitors can post photos or memories of their own. Rhodes is also soliciting video, photography, letters, and any other personal memorabilia that can be digitized for the collection. You can reach the Project via email.