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Intersectionality in Community Archives: A Reflection

Intersectionality in Community Archives: A Reflection Peer reviewed by Jeneen Naji (March. 2024)

Published onMar 06, 2024
Intersectionality in Community Archives: A Reflection
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Abstract

Orla Egan reflects on ways in which we can incorporate an intersectional approach in community archive work.

How do we implement an intersectional approach in community archives? I want to tell a tale of one example of intersectionality at work.

Community archives are often born from exclusion; those of us who do not see ourselves included in traditional archives or historical accounts are motivated to create our own archives, to tell our own stories. The Cork LGBT Archive was created partly in response to the invisibility of Cork LGBT activism in mainstream histories and in Irish LGBT historical accounts.  It was created to bring to light the rich history of the Cork LGBT communities and to make Cork’s queer history impossible to ignore.

While community archives are often motivated by the impetus of inclusion, we also need to reflect on who is included / excluded in our community archives and how can we strive to be more diverse and inclusive. I was conscious of the lack of transgender materials in the Cork LGBT Archive, so I reached out to Sara R Phillips, trans historian and founder of the Irish Trans Archive. Sara generously shared her knowledge, leading to the addition of items like the story of Cork trans man James Barry (born in Cork in 1800s).

We also need to be innovative and imaginative in how we do archives, how we do history. Most people don’t want to explore physical or digital archives, and impenetrable academic writing is often not appealing or accessible to many people. The Cork LGBT Archive is committed to Animating the Archive, bringing the history to life and making it more appealing and accessible for people. We do this in a variety of ways, including exhibitions, books, walking tours, theatre and documentaries.

The most recent manifestation of Animating the Archive is my documentary LOAFERS, marking 40 years since the opening of Cork’s gay bar in 1983. Loafers was much more than a bar – it was a crucial community space, a home for the weird and wonderful of Cork and a refuge for the Cork LGBT community. Its rooms were filled with love, laughter, dancing, political discussions and activism. The documentary explores what Loafers meant to the people who ran it, worked in it and frequented it, and the impact of the loss of such an important safe space for the community.

For the documentary I interviewed the gay man who opened Loafers bar in 1983. He talked about his desire to create an inclusive space; that those who did not feel welcome in other bars would feel welcome in his bar. This was incredibly important in the homophobic, sexist environment of 1980s Ireland.

The interview was nearly over when I decided to ask a challenging question. There was a key area we had not covered. The Traveller community, Ireland’s largest indigenous ethic minority group, have faced, and continue to face, exclusion, discrimination and prejudice in Irish society. Travellers are often refused service, for no reason other than being Travellers, in Irish pubs, hotels, shops. It was important to ask the question: did you refuse to serve Travellers in Loafers?

This question led to a powerful, reflective, redemptive tale of learning from mistakes and doing better. Having initially refused to serve Travellers, as was common practice in Cork pubs at the time, the policy was changed following an encounter with a Traveller couple in the pub.  This was an important story to include in the documentary: a story of racism and redemption. As Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I contacted the Cork Traveller Women’s Network, with whom I had built alliances and collaborations over the years, to seek permission to use some of their images in the documentary. We had added some interesting items to the Cork LGBT Archive including this LGBT Traveller & Roma calendar.

I explained that the story being told did involve initial discrimination against Travellers, that it was a redemptive tale. The Cork Traveller Women’s Network were happy to share images, including from their powerful animated video Travellers Talk Discrimination

It would have been easy to only tell the happy tales, the stories of how Cork queers found a home and safe space in Loafers. But an intersectional approach demands that we ask the hard questions, that we acknowledge the diversity within communities, that queer communities are diverse, that just because we experience discrimination and exclusion, that doesn’t mean that we in turn can’t exclude and discriminate. This was highlighted by the Proud AF campaign which aimed to highlights racism amongst GBTQI+ men in Ireland.

 Acknowledge diversity, build alliances, ask the hard questions.

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