Spotlighting LGBTQ History Month with a look at UTSA Special Collections

(October 5, 2022)

It was in 1994 that a high school teacher in Missouri founded LGBTQ History Month, which is traditionally celebrated in the United States in October, to recognize and commemorate the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community. As with other marginalized populations, the history of gays, lesbians, and transfluid individuals and organizations has often been omitted from accounts of cultural evolution. Within the last 10 to 15 years, archivists and the organizations they represent, including those here at UTSA, have recognized the importance of collecting LGBTQ materials.

UTSA Special Collections is the keeper of numerous rare and important materials representing local activists, artists, and organizations exemplifying San Antonio’s queer histories and cultures. Special Collections is nationally recognized for its unique research materials documenting the diverse histories and development of San Antonio and South Texas.

LGBTQ collections held by UTSA fill a gap in the historical record and challenge scholars, researchers, and students to incorporate their findings into the city’s historical narrative thereby providing a more complete picture of the rich and diverse tapestry of cultures and subcultures that are foundational to the evolution of San Antonio.

“Individual queer histories have often ended up in a dumpster, trash can, or incinerator,” Melissa Gohlke, UTSA Special Collections assistant archivist, and LGBTQ subject matter expert said. “Miraculously, some materials from private collections surface occasionally in antique stores, estate sales, and online. Often small in scope, the materials offer glimpses into the personal lives of gay men and women in San Antonio and South Texas.”

“In recent years queer organizations and individuals have recognized the value of their records and papers and have sought out homes where their materials could be preserved and accessed,” Gohlke added.

UTSA’s LGBTQ collection is available and accessible to anyone whether students, faculty, academic researchers, or the community. When presenting queer archival materials to students at UTSA and at other colleges, Special Collections staff demonstrate how the materials have been used by researchers in books, articles, artworks, and other projects that bring to light the many ways of living, working, and being on the gender and sexuality spectrum.

“The strength of this collection is its rich array of primary resources that offers an important look into the history of the LGBTQ community in San Antonio, Amy Rushing, assistant vice provost for Special Collections said. “This community traditionally has been underrepresented in the historical record and our goal is to ensure it is documented, preserved, and made accessible.”

UTSA Special Collections staff participate in special events and have curated numerous community exhibits that highlight UTSA’s LGBTQ collection. Most notable of these was the TransAmerica/n exhibition hosted by the McNay Art Museum in 2019, which brought in local and regional artists in addition to displaying world-famous works such as those of Andy Warhol.

“During this exhibition, Special Collections had the opportunity of curating a gallery exhibit filled with materials from our LGBTQ collections,” Gohlke said.  “Our display emphasized those that represented transgender lives, stories, and expression. The broad exposure of trans materials opened up other opportunities for engaging with the public through multiple formats such as print, radio, and television interviews.”

To celebrate LGBTQ History Month here is a glimpse into some of the unique collections donated by individual members of the local LGBTQ community.


Linda and Cynthia Phillips Papers

a photo of Linda and Cynthia Phillips Linda and Cynthia Phillips were transgender activists in Texas long before the term transgender was part of any discourse on sex and gender difference. From an early age, Jim enjoyed dressing in feminine attire and when he and Cynthia married in 1958, his bride was well aware of his cross-dressing proclivities. Over the years, the couple became very prominent with the transgender community in Central and South Texas and created the San Antonio chapter of the Boulton and Park Society. Linda and Cynthia served as the primary organizers for the Texas “T” Party, a Boulton and Part sponsored event that became the largest annual gathering of crossdressers and their partners in the United States. In 1996, the Phillips’ donated their papers to UTSA Special Collections. The bulk of the collection has been digitized and can be accessed online through the Guide to the Linda and Cynthia Phillips Papers. The materials are also available through the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA).

LGBTQ Publications

San Antonio area LGBTQ Publications Materials Materials in the collection include queer publications from San Antonio and South Texas and span the decades from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Titles include the Calendar, Marquise, River City Empty Closet, San Antonio Community News and the South Texas Voice and several others. The serials chronicle events in the local LGBTQ community in addition to covering topics of local, regional, and nation interest to the LGBTQ Community. Many of the items are digitized and available online at UTSA Special Collections LGBTQ Publications digital portal. Donations for this collection came from Gene Brake, Gene Elder at the Happy Foundation and Ted Switzer.

Lollie Johnson Papers

posing for a photo at a lesbian prom Johnson was a successful local business entrepreneur and activist who owned nine bars that served the LGBTQ community from the 1970s through the 1990s. The collection is rich in photographs that convey life in lesbian and gay bars over three decades. For more information, consult the online guide, Lollie Johnson Papers.

Sterling Houston Papers

a photo of Sterling HoustonThe Sterling Houston Papers document Houston’s involvement in the San Antonio theater community through scripts, screenplays, programs, and press materials of his theatrical works. Additionally, the collection contains documents relating to Houston’s many community and theatrical projects including Jump Start Production Company. Many items in the collection were on view during the 2022 Sterling Houston Festival held in San Antonio.

Digitized items can be accessed through the online guide, Sterling Houston Papers.

Gene Elder Papers

An image of a Journal coverMaterials document Elder’s work as an artist, activist, and writer. Twenty-three journals were created between the years of 1970 and 1995, with a few materials added shortly before Elder’s passing in 2019. Included in the journals are original works of art, commentaries by Elder, correspondence, photographs, exhibit notices, and other items chronicling the art scene in San Antonio and the life of the artist. Elder’s papers can be viewed by requesting access to the collection at the John Peace Library Reading room. More information is available via the online guide Gene Elder Papers.