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Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Task Force (GLBTF)

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 6 months ago

1992 Controversy: "American Libraries" highlight GLBTF on cover of July/August issue; members take issue.


In the summer of 1992, American Libraries (professional journal for the American Library Association) published their regular July/August issue, largely covering the conference held that year in San Francisco, California. What was different about this issue was not the events of the conference per se (although a new President had been selected), but the photo chosen for the cover of the journal issue itself.


Due in part to the location, and the timing of Pride Week it was during this particular conference that several members of the ALA - GLBTF (known then as the “Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Task Force”) chose to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade. It was a photo (seen at left) from the parade that American Libraries chose for their summer cover issue. Perhaps it was chosen to show all inclusiveness in the world of ALA or perhaps to show a little local social activism surrounding the conference. It is also possible that the editors of “American Libraries” were making a point about social responsibilities, intellectual freedom, or maybe even liberal politics in librarianship? However, whatever the reasons behind choosing the cover image for July/August 1992, some controversy had to have been anticipated - but to what degree?


Tom Gaughan, editor for American Libraries, composed a written statement in the September 1992 issue of the journal, in response to the letters received regarding the chosen photograph. He said, "Several callers critized the 'very poor taste' and the 'very poor editorial decision' of selecting the offending cover photo... I expected a few readers to be angry; my shock and surprise came because I thought that political correctness would keep them from complaining," (Ed. Notes "The last socially acceptable prejudice" American Libraries, Sept 1992, 612).


The following are just two examples from the "Reader Forum" in American Libraries November 1992 issue:


CON: "After receiving your July/August issue, I was shocked to see you glorifying and linking the homosexual movement to the American Library Association.... While fully understanding of the ALA's position on censorship (and agreeing with it), and understanding there are those in our society with different lifestyles (and tolerating it), I still find it reprehensible that an association I am a member of chooses to glorify homosexuals," (AL, Nov 1992, 843).


PRO: "As one of the gay librarians marching in the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade pictured on your July/August cover I was disappointed in some of my colleagues' responses to that photograph.... Gay and lesbians are not going to disappear from professional associations, or disappear from libraries. I applaud the editors of AL for acknowledging the task forces efforts," (AL, Nov 1992, 840-841).


The author, Christine L. Williams cites this event or reaction rather, in her essay "A Lesbigay Gender Perplex: Sexual Stereotyping and Professional Ambiguity in Librarianship." Regarding such reactions by members and/or readers, Williams comments, "the magazine printed several letters to the editor condemning the publication of the photograph ... although, to their credit, American Libraries also printed several supportive letters and editorials condemning this hostility, the point is clear: librarianship is not an especially welcoming place to gays and lesbians" - at least this was the feeling, as of the mid-1990s. (Christine L. Williams, "A Lesbigay Gender Perplex: Sexual Stereotyping and Professional Ambiguity in Librarianship," in Carmichael, Jr., ed., Daring to Find Our Names, 38).


There is validity in librarianship being a somewhat unwelcoming environment for gays and lesbians, as Williams suggests in 1995, for the library includes within its history the discrimination toward persons based on their sexual orientation. Whether this is exemplified in the purges of homosexual employees at the Library of Congress in the 1950s (see related article: Louise Robbins, "A Closet Curtained by Circumspection: Doing Research on the McCarthy Era Purge of Gays from the Library of Congress," in Carmichael, Jr., ed., Daring to Find Our Names, 55-64), or through censorship of books with homosexual content (see related article: "Conservatives continue their fight to ban 'Daddy's Roommate'," American Libraries, Dec 1992, 917), it should also be noted that there has been great strides in libraries regarding the LGBT community. For while controversys such as this did occur, there were frequently updated / published gay and lesbian bibliographies newly available, and yearly Gay Book Awards where acknowledgment within libraries (and the ALA) was happening.


While the library as a profession has - and will continue to - pride itself as a neutral and all inclusive institution regarding its access to information, such events as the controversy surrounding the American Libraries July/August 1992 cover remind us that 22 years after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force within the ALA, much is yet to be accomplished beyond just books. This need for constant dialogue, and self-reflection in a professional association, extends beyond just the issues of the LGBT community - and is vital to growth within the community of libraries. Where do we, in the world of libraries, stand today? This is a question that can and should be asked, regardless of the present year.


(By K. Glodoski)


For further history of GLBTQ in librarianship, see also: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT)


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