Blogger's Note: From an article I wrote for the Oct. 26 2015 ABQ Free Press...
Starting back in the early ‘80s Albuquerque real estate agent Bennett Hammer began what was to become became a life long obsession: clipping, saving and storing magazine and newspaper articles, flyers, posters, memorabilia-- almost anything, with the words “gay” or “lesbian” in it.
“I was curious about the legal part of it,” says Hammer, a former ACLU Board member and the 2005 Civil Libertarian of the Year, “and I wanted to understand and be able to explain, back then, why excluding gay people from the military was wrong, for example.”
“I didn’t censor the anti-gay stuff,” he says. “There are lots of materials from the Christian Coalition and I saved articles about parenting, money, schools, medicine, because these involve gay people as well.” He also collected letters to the editor written by gay people, even obituaries.
“I’m like flypaper,” he says.
Hammer is standing in a storage unit filled with hundreds of boxes of the stuff, along with Barbara Korbal, who is doing the painstaking work of organizing about 250,000 articles from 220 publications into a community archive, which will be housed at UNM’s Center for Southwest Research, starting in October. Korbal, a cultural studies historian, joined the project in earnest in 2009 to ensure future generations can learn about the LBGT movement during a crucial time. She had just organized the papers of gay rights activist Neil Isbin, who died of Aids in 1996. Isbin, credited with mobilizing the NM LBGT movement during the 80s and 90s, also saved everything. His papers—condensed into about 19 boxes—are at the Fra Angelica Chavez library at the NM History Museum in Santa Fe.
Hammer and Korbal have gone through the boxes many times. As he makes his way through the shed, Hammer points out some boxes donated by Jean and Jim Genasci, from the Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). He holds a the program of a 1994 conference “Fight the Right” that he attended, even then sharing his articles, many of which he has since cleaned up and put in clear plastic sleeves. Korbal holds an issue of the Nation Magazine from 1993 with the cover story “The Gay Moment.” Somewhere, she says, there’s a copy of a 1997 or 1998 Time or Newsweek with Ellen DeGeneres on the cover, marking another seminal moment. And there’s another, a 1956 cover from Look or Life (she couldn’t remember which) with Rock Hudson on the cover.
The 364-box collection includes five boxes of magazine covers alone. There are gay publications from the early days, documenting the organizational growth of the LGBT movement. And there are 40 years of clippings from the New Mexican, the Albuquerque Tribune and Albuquerque Journal, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek.
Hammer used to have more storage units but the material now has been culled, categorized and put into chronological order, reducing its bulk and increasing its usability. A number of interns have helped in the process, Korbal says, and some of the younger ones are amazed.
“One of them told me he couldn’t believe the progress gay people made in ten years.”
Hammer says that 1979- 2010 witnessed the premier change in cultural attitudes toward gay people. Legally, he says the struggle for equality is part of an ongoing civil rights movement. “Gay people have just been at the end of the line.”
There are other gay archives in Minneapolis, Amsterdam, North Carolina, New York and elsewhere, each with its own emphases. Hammer’s passion for collecting local materials has now grown into an ongoing project officially called The Bennett A. Hammer LLGBT Archives Project (www.hammerarchives.com), which shares information and accepts donations. Once fully catalogued and digitized, the collection will be available to the public at UNM Library. It will be a treasure trove for all kinds of people—medical researchers, playwrights, and historians.
“The ability to write and analyze the struggle for civil rights is only as good as its documents, says Barbara Korbal, who now directs the project.
Hammer is pleased that what began as a personal obsession has become so organized and he credits Korbal and the professionalism she brought to the project. But he knew the potential early on when he would get calls from little towns in New Mexico about hate crimes, and he would send them materials. Years later, the materials and the people would resurface.
“Cultural change comes when people talk to one another not at one another,” he says. The materials are an invitation to do that.
“I don’t’ think I am exaggerating when I say that making this kind of information accessible saves lives. I know it has—by reducing isolation, changing attitudes, sometimes preventing people from killing and shaming each other.
--- From the Archive: Watershed Moments for the NM LBGT Community
1975 law sponsored by Sen. Tom Rutherford repeals earlier sodomy law
1985 Executive Order issued by Governor Toney Anaya prohibits discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation
1985 NM Aids Services Founded
1987 APS adopts anti-discrimination policy
1993 SB 91, the first statewide anti discrimination bill introduced to become rallying cry for a decade
1997 Mayor Jim Baca issues non-discrimination order for Albuquerque city government
2000 Mayor Jim Baca issues executive order for city to insure domestic partners
2003 Hate Crimes Law enhances penalties for crimes committed vs. GLBT community
2003 Human Rights Act becomes law protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity "in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and union membership."
December 19, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide same-sex couples with the same marriage rights as different-sex couples, making New Mexico the 17th U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriage