By Evelyn Bailey
Initially a quarterly, then a bimonthly and finally a monthly newspaper, the Empty Closet is the oldest continuously published GLBT newspaper in New York State. With a current monthly circulation of 5000+, the EC has chronicled political, social, and economic events affecting the gay community over a 39 year period of unprecedented change.
Six years ago, June, 2004, the Gay Alliance celebrated its 30th Anniversary. One of the goals for the Anniversary year was to digitize the Empty Closet Newspaper. That goal will be a reality by the time this issue of the Empty Closet is published. Making the Empty Closet a digitized researchable document will preserve the content of the Empty Closet and preserve the documented history of the Rochester GLBT community. The digitized researchable format would allow present and future generations friendly access to this historical data for use in education, research, and advocacy work.
The road to successful completion of the EC Digitization Project has been long, and successful with the help of many people along the way. The Gay Alliance’s first attempt to fund the EC Digitization Project was in 2007. The GAGV submitted a grant, written by Michael Robertson, to the Rochester Area Community Foundation. This first grant missed the mark by very few points. The Foundation encouraged the GAGV to resubmit. Michael revised the original and the GAGV submitted the grant again. For the second time, the grant fell short of the mark.
After this disappointing turn of events, the GAGV looked to other sources for funding. Ralph Carter suggested the Alliance apply to the Xerox Foundation. It seemed a natural fit for the “Document Company” to fund the Empty Closet which documented the history of the gay community in Rochester, NY from 1971 to the present.
Evelyn Bailey,GAGV Board Member and Chair of the Shoulders to Stand On Program, John Noble, Certified Archivist and Shoulders to Stand On Committee Member, and Ralph Carter, GAGV Board Member, wrote the proposal which asked the Xerox Foundation to fund the digitization and also to give the Alliance an In-Kind donation of Docushare, a software package capable of indexing the electronic copies making them researchable.
After submitting the proposal to the Xerox Foundation in November, 2009, it seemed we were headed in the right direction and it was time to secure the use of a full and complete run of the Empty Closet to be microfilmed and then digitized. We needed to find a resource that had well preserved copies of the Empty Closet from January 1971 to Dec/Jan 2002.
From 2002 on, the Empty Closet was already being put on disc for printing the paper. Thanks to Jim Anderson, GAGV’s graphic designer, the digitized version was converted into an Adobe version compatible with the processes of microfilming and digitization. Recognizing that the University of Rochester was the most likely resource for a full and complete run of the Empty Closets, Gerry Szymanski, Gay Alliance Librarian & Archivist, and Evelyn Bailey met with Richard Peek, Director, Rare Books, Special Collections & Preservation.
Richard confirmed that the University did have a complete set of the Empty Closets, and that they could be used for the microfilming. During this meeting Richard also offered to have the University pick up the cost of microfilming the collection. In January, 2010 we learned that our request for funding from the Xerox Foundation was denied because it did not meet the current criteria for funding adopted by the Foundation in December.
Out of this unexpected news, the decision was made to go ahead with the Digitization Project. With the University of Rochester contributing the cost of microfilming piece, the Gay Alliance would raise the money for the digitization piece. Over the course of the next three weeks, the cost of the digitization piece ($3,600) was raised. Those donors who contributed will be recognized at the Annual Meeting to be held on Wednesday, June 23.
Why is the EC Digitization Project so important and worth all of the time, money, and effort of so many people?
To preserve the content of the Empty Closet.
There is grave concern and a sense of urgency over the deteriorating condition of the physical paper. Printed on inexpensive newsprint meant for ephemeral use, copies are crumbling and yellowing even when kept in a temperature and humidity controlled preservation environment like that of The University of Rochester’s collection. Many of the copies at the Gay Alliance have mildewed. Concern has also been expressed by the regional archivist for the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program. All are supportive of preserving The Empty Closet on microfilm and in digital form before further deterioration occurs.
To preserve the documented history of the LGBT community of Rochester.
The digitization of the Empty Closet will ensure the historical record of the work done by individuals and groups, as well as the impact this work has on Rochester and the Genesee Valley Region, survives as a part of New York State’s rich cultural, political, social and economic history. These historical records also give definition to who the LGBT community is, and its contribution to improve the quality of life of the Rochester community by providing leadership in the areas of health, civil rights, social justice, and economic growth.
To provide public access to the historical record and a usable resource for advocacy and research.
The digital form will be a primary source for information about the Rochester LGBT’s history for all levels of education and public policy.
The Empty Closet continues to serve as an educational tool for the non-LGBT community and as an expressive voice for equality for the LGBT community.
Shoulders To Stand On is very grateful to all those who made the EC Digitization Project a success. We are also proud of all of the staff, present and past, and all of those who contribute in any way to the make the Empty Closet the oldest continuously published gay newspaper in New York state, and the second nationally only to The Washington Blade.