In 2001, noted gay rights activist Madeline Davis founded the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Archives of Western New York as a way to collect, safeguard, and provide access to materials that document the LGBT communities of Western New York and Southern Ontario.
In 2009, the archives were transferred to Buffalo State’s E. H. Butler Library. Housed in the Archives and Special Collections on the second floor, the archives have expanded to more than 200-linear-feet worth of items and become the region’s largest LGBT collection. More than 50 diverse organizations are represented through news articles, manuscripts, diaries, gay pride parade posters, books, music and video artifacts, community organization records, and many other pieces that date back to the 1920s.
While some portions of the archives have been digitized, much has not. But now, thanks to a $50,000 anonymous gift to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, an endowed fund has been created that will provide a sustainable source of annual funding to Buffalo State to ensure that these valuable archives will be digitized, making them accessible to even more people.
“Since 1919, the Community Foundation has been working with clients to make their charitable goals a reality. Today, we are proud to honor a client’s wish to provide a sustainable stream of funding for the Madeline Davis LGBT Archives,” said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, which administers the Madeline Davis LGBT Archives Endowment Fund. “This funding will support the expansion and continued digitization of this collection, thereby improving access to these important pieces of our history for individuals in Western New York and beyond.”
Already, the Davis LGBT Archives is the second-most researched collection at the college, right behind the archives of the now defunct Buffalo Courier-Express, noted Daniel DiLandro, college archivist and special collections librarian.
“Every week, interested individuals both locally and from around the world research the history of gay pride by studying the materials found in this collection,” DiLandro said. “We are to trying to preserve the heritage of Western New York and this is one excellent example of our region’s history.”
“This gift will help Buffalo State share insights into the history of the gay rights movement as it blossomed in Western New York and beyond,” said Susanne Bair, vice president for institutional advancement. “We are grateful to Madeline Davis for giving us so many important artifacts and to the generous donor whose gift will enable us to improve public access to the collection.”
Approximately 60 donors have contributed items to the archives. Most of the records and artifacts date between the late-1960s and 2000, and highlight documentation that proves the influence of local activists’ and allies’ contributions to the international gay rights movement.
Two years after the Stonewall Inn riots in Greenwich Village, New York, that many consider the catalyst of the gay liberation movement, Davis joined a gay rights demonstration in Albany, New York, and was asked to give a speech. In 1972, she became the George McGovern delegate to the Democratic National Convention and the first openly gay delegate at a national convention.
The archives commemorates that exciting point in history, as well as the progress that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals have been making in the years since. As is true for all vibrant research projects, the LGBT archives are a work in progress, dependent on present and future generations to keep them current and timely.
Individuals who have collectible items they wish to donate to this special collection can contact DiLandro at (716) 878-6308.
About Madeline Davis
A Buffalo resident who also is an author, actor, and musician, Davis is a founding member of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, the first gay rights organization in Western New York. In 1972, she became the first openly lesbian delegate at a major political convention, attending the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida. As a member of the Democratic Committee, Davis worked to foster equal protections and civil liberties for gay and lesbian Americans. She was named to the Advocate’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
She co-authored the book Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community and has published numerous articles on sexuality and women’s history, as well as short stories and poetry. Davis is a founding member of the HAG Theatre, the first all-lesbian theater company in the United States.
Davis has performed as a folk singer in coffeehouses in Buffalo, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Toronto. In 1994, she co-founded the Black Triangle Women’s Percussion Ensemble, and she continues to perform with the percussion group Drawing Down the Moon.
In 1995, she retired as chief conservator and head of preservation in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System. Davis received the SUNY Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during Buffalo State's 144th commencement celebration in May 2016.
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