A great deal of the research for this project has come from lesbian and gay archives. Scattered across the United States and Canada, they are treasure troves for historians of sexuality. Too few, however, know about their existence, but those who do have a deep passion for preserving the past. One of my best “finds” at ONE National Lesbian and Gay Archives in Los Angeles illustrates this perfectly.
When I arrived there in the early summer of 2012, archivist Michael Oliveira was excited to show me their most recent acquisition: photographs of a male couple who had a wedding ceremony in a North Philly apartment sometime in the 1950s. For five decades, the photos sat in the Mandarang family collection. Jackie Mandarang never knew why because she recognized not a soul. One day she asked her father about them.
Your mother used to work in a photomat, he explained. Whenever film came in that the photomat owner deemed inappropriate, he would confiscate it on moral grounds. He did not mind, however, if the staff helped themselves to the prints.
Jackie’s mother tucked the wedding snaps away in her purse and hoped that one day the gentlemen would come in to the shop and she could surreptitiously pass the photos over. They never did, and the pictures ended up among the Mandarang family photos.
In a letter to the archives Jackie explains that she put the photos up for auction on eBay. The successful bidder insisted that she make a copy of the set and send it to ONE for preservation and public use. I am glad he thought to do that, but it does make me wonder how much historical material is in the hands of private collectors, out of reach of the research community. When the value in an object is in its scarcity, can we ever hope that copies will be made available so that we can know our own past?
I got in touch with The Philadelphia Gay News in the hope that, with their help, the photos could be reunited with their rightful owners. They ran a story about the confiscated photos in February 2013, but no one has come forward to claim them. What made the couple decide to get married? Who was it that married them, and how did their friends feel about the ceremony? We will never know.
I had hoped that the article might also prompt people who have stories of their own about same-sex weddings in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to get in touch with me, but that didn’t happen either. Even in the age of the Internet, finding each other is a challenging task.
It is a pleasure to share my research findings with a broad audience but the truth is that my underlying hope is that the blog reaches people who participated in or witnessed same-sex weddings, or who opposed them, or who officiated them, or who had any other connection to the subject. If that’s you, please get in touch with me. It that’s not you, please like, share and re-post as far and wide as possible. Don’t let our history be a scarce resource. You can email me at email@example.com.
[Image Description: two reasonably young men in suits stand at a wedding cake, cutting it together]
[Image Description: 5 men stand together in a V: at the center, an officiant holding a large book. On both sides of him, the grooms and their best men. A sixth man in a suit, also holding a book, is in the background on the right].