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New exhibit explores LGBTQ history at Connecticut College

Senior Rachel Zelinsky wanted to research the history of LGBTQ life at Connecticut College, so she headed to the most obvious place - the college archives. She was shocked to find just one thin folder containing four documents from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"The college archives had virtually no records of LGBTQ life, people, community or activism," Zelinsky said.

The lack of documented history inspired Zelinsky to dig deeper. She found two alumni - Chris Fray '86 and Carrie Hackett '05 - who had saved a number of documents from their time at the College and began collecting everything she could.

Zelinsky's collection, which includes the mission statement of the College's first gay and lesbian group (founded in 1979), excerpts from interviews with alumni, historic letters and a 1988 Gay, Straight, Bi Alliance newsletter called "The Pink Flamingo," is now part of the "Queer Conn" History Exhibit in the College's LGBTQ Resource Center.

The exhibit, which opened with a dinner and reception on May 13, also documents the history of the Center and the national movement for LGBTQ civil rights.

Jen Manion, assistant professor of history and director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, said the exhibit grew out of a desire to document the founding of the Center with the seniors who were freshmen when it opened in the spring of 2007. Manion curated the exhibit with Zelinsky and Lakshmi Kannan '10.

"Students who identify as LGBTQ now know that there is somewhere they can go for support and resources, and I don't think that was the case when these seniors arrived as freshmen," Manion said.

Kannan is one of those seniors. She created an exhibit wall with documents she collected related to the opening of the Center, including an article from the College's alumni magazine and pictures and a narrative from a "Day of Silence" demonstration in the spring of the same year.

"It is so important for students to know about the history of the Center," Kannan said. "The last four years have been long and hard, and so much more needs to be done."

Zelinsky agreed that documenting the history of LGBTQ activism at the College is essential for progress.

"Good historical record keeping of our own activism is the only way for students to continue a project after the founding activists have graduated," she said.

Manion said she hopes the exhibit, which will remain on display in the Center indefinitely, will continue to grow.

"Really this is just the beginning of a conversation as a way of documenting the LGBTQ history here at Connecticut College," she said. "We want to build a full archive of queer life at Conn, and we hope alumni add to it with stories and documents and students build it over time."

-Amy Martin

May 26, 2010