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What is in the Collection

The Mariposa Education and Research Foundation provided the core of the Collection. Concerned that gay history was being forgotten and erased, early in the 1970s Mariposa started saving all kinds of material — periodicals, pamphlets and books, films, art work, unpublished short stories, erotica, legal briefs, private correspondence, and diaries — that shed light on gay life and events in the American gay rights movement since World War II. Bruce Voeller, President of Mariposa, was instrumental in providing a vision to both the Mariposa collection and the emerging Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell.

Our goal is to encourage the study of sexuality and sexual politics by preserving primary sources that too often are lost. Our attention goes particularly to groups that are excluded from mainstream culture. Through our collecting efforts, we seek to document historical shifts in the social construction of sexuality, primarily in American history from the 19th century onward. We focus on lesbian and gay history and the politics of pornography, both at the national level. Books date mostly from the mid-1800s on; manuscripts and periodicals date mostly from the 1950s on; and audio-visual materials date mostly from the 1970s on.

Since the Mariposa gift, many other groups and individuals have contributed their historical papers, expanding the Human Sexuality Collection’s documentation of lesbian and gay history, the politics of pornography, and other topics.

Visual Resources: Visual resources expanded dramatically with Harry Weintraub’s 2010 gift of photographs, ephemera, and publications avidly acquired over three decades. Scouring flea markets and other locales, he found thousands of photographs of men that he placed into numerous categories and then decided to make available to researchers here at Cornell. Cornell also has AIDS and safe sex posters from around the world, and photographs, albums, artwork, and graphic material within its varied collections.

Pornography: The papers of H. Lynn Womack, publisher of the Guild Press and affiliated gay-oriented mail order enterprises, document the day to day operations of one segment of the pornography business. We collect feminist and other critiques of pornography, such as Newspage, a publication of Women against Violence in Pornography & Media, and we seek the records of such organizations. Heather Findlay, publisher of Girlfriends magazine, has donated files from a publication she and others put together in response to Playboy‘s visit to Brown University while she was a student there. Cornell has records documenting a 1960 obscenity suit faced by a beat poetry journal, Big Table, and of course has books with histories of censorship due to erotic or sexually controversial content.

LGBT Book World: Nancy Bereano placed the archives of lesbian feminist press Firebrand Books at Cornell, and George Fisher donated the entire inventory of his business, Elysian Fields Booksellers, including an abundance of paperback erotic fiction and sensationalized accounts of “deviant” sexuality. The 1950s and 1960s pulp novels from Fisher join collections from Gordon Martin, Dorothy Feola, and others to form a diverse collection onlesbian and gay publishing. We were delighted in 1998 to add the papers of lesbian author Valerie Taylor and in 2009, to add the papers of Peter Burton documenting the British gay literary scene. We invite donations of additional collections from writers, publishers, bloggers, and journalists. Cornell also wants to help document the creative endeavors of LGBT people in theater and music and the expression of LGBT themes in the arts.

Lesbian and bisexual women’s oral history projects: Kristin Esterberg’s donation of the tapes, transcripts, and research notes from her Ithaca oral history project enrich our resources about lesbian and bisexual women’s community and identity. Roey Thorpe has donated material from her oral history project with lesbians in Detroit. This collection is particularly valuable because of its compilation of the stories of historically underrepresented women, African-American and working class lesbians.

LBGT and AIDS organizations: Influential and long-standing national NGBT rights organizations preserve their records at Cornell. Records here include:

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF)

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

National Lesbian and Gay Health Association

Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychologists

Decades of political and social organizing in Rochester, New York are documented in the records of the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, and statewide organizing is reflected in the records of the Empire State Pride Agenda. PWA Health Group, a New York City organization pushing for access to experimental treatments for HIV/AIDS, has contributed its papers. In 1989, Robert Roth donated his extensive correspondence with emerging gay and lesbian liberation organizations and individuals around the world, along with many of their publications.

Indonesian collection: Because of Cornell’s well known Echols Collection on Southeast Asia, we have become home to a unique collection of letters sent by Indonesian youth to Prof. Sarlito Sarwono asking questions that related mainly to sexuality. Many letters are accompanied by the responses published in a newspaper column, Sahabat Remaja.

Personal Papers: Central to the collection are the diaries, photographs, and correspondence that give voice to the lives and passions of individuals. A moving example of these are the papers of Robert Lynch, an artist and attorney from North Carolina, who sketched pictures and reflected thoughtfully in his diaries throughout his lifetime. Lynch chronicled his feelings about his family background and his mixed Native American, African American, and Euro-American ethnicity, as well as his evolving sexuality as a gay man.

James M. Foster , one of the early leaders of the gay liberation movement in San Francisco and, in 1972, the first openly gay delegate to address the national convention of a major political party in the United States, left his correspondence, subject files, photographs, and erotic audiotapes to Cornell. His papers pertain to his work, the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the San Francisco City Health Commission, and the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club.

Brian McNaught , author of books on homophobia in the workplace and other gay issues, has donated papers documenting his life and multiple careers. McNaught has worked as a newspaper columnist, writer, political appointee, church activist, sexuality and AIDS educator, and corporate sensitivity trainer. The papers include a daily diary kept during a 1974 hunger strike protesting the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality.

National spokesperson against homophobic violence, Claudia Brenner, has donated papers documenting her survival of a violent attack and her subsequent work with NGLTF’s Anti-Violence Project. Brenner is the author of Eight Bullets: One Woman’s Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence (Ithaca, N.Y. : Firebrand Books, 1995).

Sylvia and Bernie Goldstaub are sharing documents relating to the effect on their family when their son Mark came out to them as a gay man in 1977 and when he died from an AIDS-related illness in 1988.

The Human Sexuality Collection also has received the video archive and papers of journalist Phil Zwickler, who directed and produced award-winning documentaries on gay rights and AIDS.

Since documentation of gay life before 1969 is so difficult to find, we are delighted to provide access to the diaries and papers of Robert J. Leach, born in 1916. Notable in his writings are his descriptions of boyhood crushes on other boys and, much later, in his 60s, his process of coming out to friends and family.

A current list of manuscript holdings, periodicals, and descriptions of parts of our book collections are available.

Collection Highlights