Since March 2019, Amanda Wray, an associate professor of English at UNC Asheville, has been leading the way in gathering and organizing materials for the LGBTQIA+ Archive of Western North Carolina. At the start, her team was composed of three undergraduate research interns. Today, the project includes 64 volunteers with major financial support from Blue Ridge Pride, a local organization that promotes inclusivity and equality for LGBTQ+ and allied communities in WNC.
The pandemic, says Wray, has forced her team to readjust. Currently, all oral history interviews are conducted on Zoom. In some respects, the change has expedited the process. “Before COVID, I would run around town dropping digital recorders and consent forms on a volunteer’s front porch, and then I’d retrieve it later, upload the audio file and start processing the interview,” she explains.
Convenience, however, does have its drawbacks. “There’s no checking out the magnets on [an individual’s] fridge, seeing the photos framed on their walls, meeting their beloved pet or hearing stories about flowers in the yard as you walk in or out of the interview,” Wray explains.
Still, the archive continues to gain momentum, thanks to the support from Blue Ridge Pride, the YMCA, community members and a more recent partnership with Western Carolina University.
But ultimately, what sustains the project is the group’s 64 volunteers and the diverse experiences they bring to the collaboration. “Some knew they were transgender at age 6, and others transitioned in their 60s,” says Wray. “Some came out to their parents, and others lived out only among trusted friends. Some still battle internalized homophobia. Many are estranged from one or more members of their biological family.”
Such experiences, notes Wray, represent the core of the project’s mission. “These oral histories showcase a diverse and courageous LGBTQ+ population that has protested against racism and sexism, educated faith-based communities on LGBTQ+ identity, shaped public narratives on transgender identity, created art of every mode and contributed to a reputation of LGBTQ+ inclusion in Asheville,” says Wray. “They are hilarious, serious, sad, uplifting and always educational.”
To learn more, visit the archive’s YouTube channel at avl.mx/98l. Want to work for the project? The archive is currently hiring Spanish-speaking interviewers who can collect oral histories from individuals in the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. Email Wray at email@example.com to apply.