For National Coming Out Day, we stepped into history's closet

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The West Coast's only archive dedicated to lesbian history is tucked away in an unsuspecting building in West Hollywood. Photo credit: Cerise Castle/KCRW

There’s an old saying that goes like this: you have to know where you’re from to know where you’re going. But, things change quickly. In a few decades we’ve moved from sending letters to status updates, voicemails to text messages. Neighborhoods aren’t any different — in West Hollywood, businesses come and go and people move. The area has always been a welcoming place for people who identify somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and the city is rich in community history. For this year’s National Coming Out Day KCRW took a trip to the June Mazer Lesbian Archives, the only gay archive on the West Coast specifically dedicated to documenting a history of lesbianism in America.

“When we first started they collected anything a lesbian ever touched, like something odd like June Mesa's favorite sandals. Her Birkenstocks are here in the archives,” says Angela Bruinskeli, the archive’s Director of Communications. She jokingly calls herself a professional lesbian.  

“I went to college at Fullerton College, and my college said we're abolishing all clubs on campus rather than fund the gay club,” she recalls. “I didn't want anybody else to go through that ever again, so I decided I'm going to photograph the LGBT community for the rest of my life and document LGBT people.”

Bruinskeli says that she thinks there is a disconnect between older and younger generations of queer people, and keeping the history visible is key for the community’s vitality. 

“People think that LGBT people didn't necessarily fight for their rights, that they just got them one day. And the truth is, we've been fighting for decades for our rights,” she says. “It's really important to know that, especially with an environment like now, because you when you know your history you know what you can lose.”

Credits

Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle