Reflection by Em Ramser
There was this moment in the reading room when I started crying. Not a full boo-hoo, but tears definitely fell. I had in front of me all these reports, newspaper articles, and letters about AIDS and those who were dying from it. I was holding the lives of people from my community, queer folx like me who had never had the opportunity to live. Two things hit me at that moment; the first was why archival work is important and the second is how lucky I am as a queer woman living today.
Looking at all these letters about the discrimination and fear queer folx lived through in this time period was humbling. They lived in fear for their lives, their careers, and the safety of their partners, friends, and family. Meanwhile, I had come to the archives after getting coffee with someone who would later become my partner, someone I am able to date and love openly. I attend monthly LGBTQIA+ socials at Harvest House through Outreach Denton. I am out both in private and in public. I do not have to fear nearly as much as those before me did.
I knew a lot of work has gone into getting us to where we are in terms of LGBTQIA+ rights; however, I do not think I fully understood how much until going through these boxes and files. There were so many things that happened that I never considered or thought about such as having to beg the police departments for protection even when the police departments were actively murdering queer folx or going to jail for exposing FBI surveillance of queer groups or creating a 24/7 crisis line for LGBTQIA+ people in one’s home. To save our community, Bogle and her colleagues sacrificed a lot. They sacrificed more than I will probably ever really know.
Yet the archives have memorialized a small portion of that work. It is because of the archives and files within it that I know now about the discrimination of LGBTQIA+ students at TWU in the 70s and the pushback from the Denton community when LGBTQIA+ classes started being offered. Without the archives, I would have never known Denton as anything but the LGBTQIA+ oasis of northern Texas. It kind of shell-shocked me a bit because Denton has been so kind to me as a queer person. It served as a reminder of where we have come from and where we can go back to if we do not keep fighting for not just tolerance but acceptance.
Archives preserve the bad moments right alongside the good. They show us not only the past but also the possibility of the future. We often think of things in the archives as part of a static past. Yet, the archives are a lot more than that, particularly if you look through the Q/M lens. They are a part of the living breathing body of the world.
This was probably one of my favorite projects that I have done in the entirety of my academic career. It felt like I was doing important work for my community. So I guess the most meaningful part of this project for me was being able to do that work for the queer community, to highlight and preserve the activism work done in Denton, while along the way developing a better understanding of my own queerness through doing so.