Walking the Walk: Tracing the color line in the PQHP Archives

Harrison Apple

Abstract

The Pittsburgh Queer History Project began as an oral history and media preservation initiative to document the lives of working class LGBTQ people who built communities and networks of support in the unlikely setting of the American Rust Belt, during a period of immense economic collapse and outmigration. The project’s archives holds over 12,000 images, a yet un-quantified length of video tape, and roughly 15 cubic feet of physical material ranging from state documents, to night club ephemera, and pornography. The project’s initial focus was the subversive use of working men’s fraternal organizations as underground and after-hours (after 2 am) queer nightclubs, protecting the communities of labor and love that developed inside them. Through this paper takes the opportunity to critique the scope of the PQHP’s archival material through black feminist scholarship, information science literature, and critical race theory. In a close reading of oral history interviews I recorded in 2014 with two African-American trans-femme elders, they develop new questions about the archival record, and record-ness, and what constitutes “valuable” LGBT historical data. Through the concrete archival work of arranging and describing materials, I re-examines the construction of LGBT historical value in a way that does not attempt to de-racialize sex and gender identities under the LGBT acronym – a process that is all too common in an era of monolithic LGBT representation on the national stage and the continued rise of homonationalist politics. Finally this paper presents the intersecting histories of residential and social segregation in Pittsburgh as primary factors in the shaping of LGBT community identity and archival collection policy. Through this work, I continue to ask of the city that has been named “Most Livable” since 1985, “most livable for whom?” This work is indebted to the ongoing activist work of Roots Pride, a Queer and Trans POC led alternative Pride and activist group that pulled together city-wide resources and organizations to address the racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the city of Pittsburgh, especially that perpetuated by the leadership of the city’s Delta Foundation.

Bio

Harrison Apple is a second year PhD student of Gender and Women’s Studies and Information Science at the University of Arizona. Their research interests are LGBTQ history, archival science, labor history, and critical race theory. They are the founding co-director and archivist of the Pittsburgh Queer History Project, an oral history and media archive preserving traces of working class LGBTQ lives in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Their dissertation work draws on the history of queer Pittsburghers utilizing the loose regulation of liquor licenses for working men’s social clubs to create an after-hours (after 2 am) landscape of queer nightlife that began in the early 1960s and came to an abrupt halt in 1990. Their research theorizes how the unique characteristics of membership to these clubs (emphasizing sexuality, gender, race, and class) is embedded textually and texturally in their archival trace using an intersectional feminist lens. The PQHP archives now holds: 15 cubic feet of physical regalia, 12,000 photographs, and several hundred of hours of video footage. Before attending the University of Arizona, Apple was an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University. There they produced a public exhibition and lecture series titled Lucky After Dark, as well as a full color print catalog of the exhibition’s items and public events. Their work has been featured in Transgender Studies Quarterly, and Outhistory.org, and will be included in the textbook, Introduction to Transgender Studies edited by Ardel Haefle-Thomas, forthcoming from Harrington Park Press.

Harrison Apple’s pronouns are they/them.