The University Record, June 7, 1999

Exhibition showcases state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender life

By Mary Nehls-Frumkin
University Library

Female Michigan couple, early 1900s. Courtesy Lesbian Herstory Archives
From dapper cross-dressing women early in this century, to long-haired hippies marching for gay liberation in the streets of Detroit during the Nixon years, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history is showcased in a ground-breaking exhibition in the lobby of the Graduate Library.

Presented by the Lavender Information and Library Association and the renowned Joseph A. Labadie Collection, “Artifacts and Disclosures: Michigan’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Heritage” pulls together photographs, publications and other ephemera documenting the lives and communities too often overlooked in traditional Michigan history.

The display, the first of its kind to focus specifically on Michigan, draws on materials from the Labadie Collection, the Bentley Historical Library and Special Collections at the Michigan State University Libraries, as well as local gay publications and repositories, such as the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York.

“This project pieces together fragmentary evidence from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in Michigan,” explains Tim Retzloff, a Library Diversity Committee member and co-curator of the exhibition. “It shows how sexuality and gender have been voluntarily and involuntarily disclosed over time.

“To uncover clues to earlier gay life, such as a 1918 snapshot of two women in a passionate embrace and an early 1960s business card from a gay bar, is an excavation of sorts,” Retzloff adds.

For co-curator Julie Herrada, associate librarian in the Labadie Collection, the display’s significance lies in its contributions to the broader history of social movements. “Documenting gay Michigan gives historical perspective to the struggles endured by homosexuals in some of our state’s darker days,” she says, “while at the same time inspiring us to continue in the pursuit of sexual freedom.”

The exhibition, co-sponsored by the Bentley, Library Diversity Committee and Library Exhibits Committee, runs through July 21.