Preserving Queer Life in Southwestern Ontario: UWindsor digital archive project shared with international audience

Queer Life in Southwestern Ontario

As parades and celebrations took place around the world in June to celebrate Pride Month, Information Services Librarian Scott Cowan used his platform to highlight the importance of queer stewardship in Windsor-Essex to an international audience at the 2019 ALMS conference hosted in Berlin, Germany.

Over 400 participants from over 40 countries gathered to discuss the collection and preservation of materials of all types from LGBTQ2+ communities.

As a speaker and panelist, Cowan’s lecture set to address the focus of the conference, ‘Queering Memory’ by sharing the latest project to come out of the first-year Women’s and Gender Studies course, Queer Activism.

Taught by Dr. Renée Bondy, Queer Activism engages students to research and explore the past and present issues surrounding LGBTQ+ activism. In addition to learning how queer communities are created and sustained, the students also contributed to an experiential learning collaboration project with Leddy Library to build Queer Life in Southwestern Ontario, a digital exhibit and archive to preserve local queer history.

“Although the project is still in the early stages, we are really excited because it means a lot for Windsor-Essex,” explained Cowan. “We typically only find queer archives in large metropolitan areas, they aren’t as common in rural areas.”

Inspired by a thesis written by Craig Loftin, Cowan recalls a quote that ignited the project: “Some people go to gay bars to first immerse themselves in gay culture, but I went to a gay archive instead… learning about gay history helped me more than anything to accept my gayness.” 

“It dawned on us that this was missing in our community,” said Cowan. “There is an abundance of history and resources, they just need to be collected, documented, and accessible for the community in one place.”

With the goal of making queer life in Windsor-Essex more visible, Cowan, Bondy and a team of ambitious students and community members set their sights on developing Queer Life in Southwestern Ontario. Over the course of a year, students worked to bring a collection of voices together to identify, document and catalogue past and present queer spaces, places, events, and services in the area. 

While the archive work is ongoing, the team is thrilled to share the resource with the community in time for Windsor’s Pride celebration.

“We look forward to adding more voices and resources to the archive in the future,” said Cowan.