Florida’s gay archive

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This item, originally published on March 22, 2012, has been updated with additional material on 16 June 2012.

Part of the archive | South Florida Gay News | 14384

At the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which was started in 1973, there’s the tennis racket signed by Martina Navratilova, says South Florida Gay News. News clippings of former beauty queen and gay rights opponent Anita Bryant. The gavel that hammered the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy against gays and lesbians last year. And 25,000 books and videos, Stonewall is the largest circulating library of gay literature and periodicals and one of at least a handful nationally. It changed its name last year, from the Stonewall Library & Archives, to reflect a more national focus with its collection and traveling exhibitions. The organization’s advertising boasts that it’s “the LGBT community’s Smithsonian. Stonewall has about 7,000 items in its archives, representing 8,000 linear feet or about 1 1/2 miles of materials. There are 16 towering rows of shelving racks packed with everything from gay pulp fiction novels from the 1950s to event buttons such as one from the 1982 Gay Games in San Francisco. Sealed plastic bags display jerseys from local and national gay sports leagues.

Mark N Silber | South Florida Gay News | 14385

Mark N. Silber is an openly gay man who grew up in South Florida and, in 1973, founded the Stonewall Library, which is now known as the Stonewall National Museum and Archives.

“I always stop here when I’m in South Florida,” he said during an interview at the archives. “This time I’m here for my 40th high school reunion at Nova High School in Boca. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”

Silber and some friends from FAU began gathering books for the Stonewall Library in 1973 largely through donations of volumes from their own libraries. The first collection was housed in a spare room in Silber’s parents’ home in Hollywood. It stayed there for almost 10 years when SunShine Cathedral MCC, which at the time was on SW 27th Street in Fort Lauderdale, offered to house the growing collection in a classroom on the church campus.

“We needed a public place where people could come and read or do research,” he said. “My parents’ home just didn’t make it so we were lucky to get space at the MCC.”

In 1984, Silber and his boyfriend at the time both got jobs in New York City. They were eager to experience life in one of the world’s cultural capitals so they packed up and left the library in willing hands.

“I wasn’t worried about the library when I left South Florida,” Silber said. “I knew the people who succeeded me were committed to keeping alive our history and culture and judging by what we see today, I was right”

“Remember,” he went on. “South Florida has an amazing history with gay rights even before Anita Bryant started spreading her poison. Miami was one of the first places that gave gays civil protections until Bryant got them overturned.”

Today Silber is a landlord in a historical neighborhood in Philadelphia and an active member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides and the University City Historical Society.

“I’m thrilled by the growth of this place,” he said. “They have over 21,000 books and more than 7,000 artifacts. It’s amazing.”


SP

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