LGBTQ+ archives can be found in large cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, New York, Chicago, Houston, Boston, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Tucson and Phoenix.
You can now add the not-so-large city of Palm Springs to that list.
About a dozen Palm Springs residents have started establishing an historical archive of the LGBTQ+ community in the Coachella Valley. An inaugural exhibition of the “archive-in-progress” is scheduled to open Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Welwood Murray Memorial Library in downtown Palm Springs, and will remain open during Greater Palm Springs Pride weekend. The display will contain both electronic and physical memorabilia that link to local and national personalities, places and events relevant to the area.
David Gray is a co-founder of the LGBTQ+ History and Archives of the Desert.
“In 2018, I attended a 40th anniversary dinner for the Desert Business Association (the valley’s LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce),” Gray told the Independent. “That got me thinking: ‘They’ve been around a while, and I wonder what their history is, and how did they begin?’ So I tried to talk to a few people about how they began, and it was all a little vague.”
Gray served as a Palm Springs Public Library trustee for about a decade. “So I was sort of familiar with what the library had. Also, during that period of time, the Welwood Murray Memorial Library downtown had been renovated, providing archival storage for the Palm Springs Historical Society, which until then had boxes and files in a small little house on the village green, but nothing that a museum or a real archive would (consider to be) appropriately stored.”
Gray said he asked the Historical Society whether it had a lot of archive materials regarding the LGBTQ+ community. The response was no—so he started talking to others about creating an LGBTQ+ archive.
“At the time, an archivist working at the Historical Society, a woman at the library and myself all thought this was something that we should do before we lost too many people who have lived here and helped make it the welcoming community it is today for LGBTQ+ people.”
Thus, the LGBTQ+ History and Archives of the Desert was born. Gray and the others started to build a timeline of important events—happenings both good and bad in the LGBTQ+ community—and planned to do an exhibition during Greater Palm Springs Pride in 2020. Of course, COVID-19 delayed things by a year. Meanwhile, the now-13 member founding committee continued to collect materials for the archive.
“Anything which has to do with LGBT history within the Coachella Valley is something that we would consider for the collection,” Gray said. “That could be almost anything from matchbook covers of former bars, restaurants and inns, or magazines and publications of some sort that have been published through the years and were geared toward the LGBT community. Even things like pictures and so forth—it’s pretty wide open.
“We’re pretty new, so we don’t have a lot of stuff yet. Our intent is really to make sure that we’re (not presenting) hearsay, but actual documentation. Everything that we have has to have some sort of reference. It had to have been published somewhere; it has to have appeared somewhere.”
The efforts of Gray and his colleagues so far have actually helped some organizations learn more about their own history. He cited the PFLAG Palm Springs chapter as an example.
“I reached out to them, because at our exhibition, we’d like to recognize that they’ll be celebrating their 30th anniversary,” Gray said. “… They wrote back and said, ‘Thank you for including us, and here’s our logo, but we’re not sure that it’s our 30th anniversary. How do you know this?’ We wrote back and said, ‘Well, it’s documented in The Desert Sun that on July 8, 1991, you held your first organizing meeting here in the valley.’”
As word gets out about the LGBTQ+ History and Archives of the Desert, Gray said people are starting to come forward with important items for the collection.
“We did get contacted by a gentleman who has the complete set of issues of a gay and lesbian newspaper, Mega-Scene, that was published here for more than 20 years,” Gray said. “He was involved in it, and we told him that we did want to take those and have them scanned. That will provide a great resource, because you can see what the addresses of things were, when they were there, and what people were saying about them, etc. Mega-Scene was published by Bob Hoven, who has a star on our Walk of Stars and was an important person here in Palm Springs. He’s been dead for quite a long time, and most people today don’t know who he was. Also, we’ve been given a huge watercolor portrait of Hoven that hung in Streetbar for many, many years. Now, Streetbar has given it to our archive, and we want it preserved forever.”
The inaugural exhibition will primarily consist of two components: First, there will be display panels spotlighting significant events, broken down by decade. Second, there will be actual items, like issues of various publications and memorabilia.
“There will be a little bit about tourism—things like fliers, brochures or souvenirs from guest houses that operated here, but may be closed today,” Gray said. “A gentleman has loaned us about 70 matchbook covers, which will be displayed to indicate where (those establishments) were in Palm Springs.”
Gray said the archive is currently operating under the financial auspices of Greater Palm Springs Pride, with the Palm Springs Public Library and the Palm Springs Historical Society serving as operational partners. After the inaugural exhibition, the founding committee plans to get the LGBTQ+ History and Archives set up as an independent nonprofit organization; expand its collection of items; and build a website and app. The archive is also starting to plan future exhibits and collaborations with other organizations. Gray mentioned a possible partnership with the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.
“That could be our (exhibition) for next year,” Gray said. “Already, we know that there are almost 50 people on the Walk of Stars who are gay and lesbian. So we could have bios of all of them with their photos, and that could be the kickoff for the app. That’s one that should probably be easy to do.”
The inaugural exhibition of the LGBTQ+ History and Archives of the Desert will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 4; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 6; and noon to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Welwood Murray Memorial Library, 100 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/LGBTQPSHistory.