New Podcast Series Explores Queer History With Help From Library’s Archives

A library filled with collections of people’s stories is coming to life in a new podcast series called “Unboxing Queer History.”

At the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives you can find anything from old news letters to costumes. There’s even a Barbie of Rosie O’Donnell.

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The aisles are filled with dozens of boxes, each telling stories of the past.

“I do think queer history gets boiled down to Stonewall, AIDS, gay marriage and that’s it, and there’s no conversation about how rich the history is before Stonewall and no conversation about positive moments,” said Jen Dentel, the library’s program coordinator.

Dentel started as a volunteer eight years ago and was quickly enchanted by the life of a Chicago drag queen named Miss Tilly, who started in the 1940s and reached her peak in the 60s and 70s before passing away in 2005.

Now Miss Tilly’s story, among others, is coming to life in a podcast series called “Unboxing Queer History.”

“It’s so exciting to see yourself reflected back at you in history, and I feel like that particularly with the Latinas Amiga’s collection, which was a group women that gathered monthly in the late 90s, to just be Latina and queer together and talk about it and bring their families,” said audio producer Ariel Mejia.

Mejia pitched the idea for the podcast to Gerber/Hart and, with the help of a grant, it grew into an eight-episode series. Each episode dives into the work and lives of activists, groups, performers and organizations, like transGeneis.

The podcast’s creators say the series gives LGBTQ trailblazers a voice to unpack their experiences.

“The people that we interviewed talked to us about their history and that we were even interested in it was a point of so much emotion for these elders that it was incredible,” Mejia said.

The group says discovering their “queer lineage” has empowered them and hopes listeners feel the same.

“I hope this inspires them, and I hope they laugh because queer history is a lot of fun,” said Hannah Viti, an audio producer. “It doesn’t only have to be the heartbreak we had to endure. So I hope they’re curious, and I hope it feels like a celebration.”

For more information about how to listen to the podcast, visit the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives website

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