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Expanding Access to Lehigh Valley LGBT History
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ALLENTOWN, Pa. (WLVT) - This summer, college students from the Lehigh Valley are going through years of material at Muhlenberg College's Trexler Library.

That's where the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archive is housed and preserved. It's a collection of pictures, documents and other records from the 90s to now.

"It’s so important right now for libraries and institutions of higher learning to really be collaborating with their community," said Susan Falciani Maldonado, the special collections and archives librarian at Trexler Library.

The materials come from the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown. Executive director Adrian Shanker said people found things in their basements, and local businesses provided items as well. He said the LGBT community has a storied history of activism in the Lehigh Valley.

"It’s so important that, now at this moment in time, when our community has achieved such great victories in many ways, that we really take time to document that history and those early activists who made our lives today possible," he said. "Research shouldn’t be something that just sits on a shelf."

The center is working on digitizing the archive, thanks to a private donor and a grant from Lehigh University’s Summer Mountaintop Initiative. This is in addition to an oral history project with voices from local elders in the LGBT community.

"What the students have been working is creating the infrastructure for a website, and that will be a public-facing website that provides narratives about what’s in the archive," said Mary Foltz, associate professor of English at Lehigh University.

Four students -- three from Lehigh and one from Muhlenberg -- are in the middle of a 10-week project that ends August 6. They’re also designing a traveling exhibit about the Lehigh Valley’s Pride in the Park, a watershed event in Allentown in 1993 as the area’s first public event highlighting the local LGBT community that continues to this day.

The work is tedious, and the project’s mentors say it will take more than just the summer to finish it. The goal is to expand access to these materials -- not just here in the Lehigh Valley.

"Researchers anywhere in the country interested in, say, the history of the marriage equality movement in america or fights for non-discrimination -- they can look at what we’ve collected here and use that as part of their research, too," Shanker said.

The archive includes Pride in the Park programs, memories from former Allentown gay bars Candida’s and Diamonz, and pictures of community gatherings over the years. It also features LGBT media and voting guides to help people stay informed.

"It allows the community to feel valued that their micro-histories are very important to growing scholarship, and that the materials are able to be preserved for future generations, which has always been our essential purpose," said Falciani Maldonado.

"We are part of a rich history," Foltz said. "Our region matters for Pennsylvania LGBTQ history, and you cannot have national movements if you don’t have regions that are also the kind of voice for a larger LGBTQ movement."

At this point, the goal is to digitize and keep track of what’s in the archive now, but later, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center plans to reach back out to the community to add to the collection.