Fundamental Reading

It was the weekend of Judy Garland's death, and emotions were running high. On Friday, June 27, 1969, the New York City police conducted what was a regular occurrence. Raids of gay bars and harassment of gays and lesbians were facts of life in America, and the persecuted put up little resistance. But that night the street in front of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village erupted into violent protest, and the subsequent nights of civil unrest have come to be known as the Stonewall Riots.

The collective event marked the beginning of the liberation movement that has transformed the oppression of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community into calls for pride and action. Fortunately, much documentation of that history has been saved, but a good deal of early gay archival material, especially that from the early to mid-20th Century, is in danger of being lost. However, some cities and universities around the country are working hard to preserve gay history, and in Fort Lauderdale major work is under way both to save political, historical, and social documents and to provide an active lending library of GLBT subject matter.

The Stonewall Library and Archives contains the largest collection of GLBT books and periodicals south of Washington, D.C., and east of Houston. Recently relocated to new digs at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale, the library houses more than 8000 books, including lesbian and gay fiction, poetry, drama, histories, and biographies.

"The archives will remind us where we have been and direct us to where we need to go," says Fred Searcy, president of the Stonewall board of directors.

The Stonewall Library began in 1973 under the direction of Fort Lauderdale native Mark Silber. He started the collection in his teens, believing that GLBT material should be preserved and available to the public. The collection has been used by casual readers, people coming out, students doing research, and nationally known scholars. John Loughery, author of The Other Side of Silence -- Men's Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth Century History, did much of the research for the book at the Stonewall. The Fort Lauderdale institution, he has written, "does not replicate what is being done elsewhere; it explores the history of a particular community."

But you don't have to be a scholar to enjoy the Stonewall. Its location in the highly trafficked community center makes it easy to drop in, peruse the collection of periodicals, and browse new titles.

Says Stonewall director of public relations Robert Nathans: "It's all about the love of books."

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Tom David