Queer Archives Project

Hidden Community

Due to the frankly dangerous nature of having an LGBTQ+ identity throughout American history, many groups of queer people do not have the luxury, nor the desire, to be publicly known. To discount groups that form and remain hidden out of necessity from the conversation of what makes a community simply due to their lack of presence in the consciousness of the larger institution would be a significant disservice to queer history. Though less evidence of such “Hidden Communities” exists through archival artifacts by their very nature, oral history lends itself as a particularly powerful tool to document such organizations and appreciate their larger purpose without compromising the safety of the members, nor fundamentally changing the purpose and structure of the community in question. For the purpose of this path, Hidden Communities will be defined as those communities which take significant steps to preserve the anonymity of their participants and possibly the existence of the group itself.

The most prominent example of this type of community in contemporary (2019) Lafayette is Behind Closed Doors, or BCD. BCD is a student run support group for members of the LGBTQ+ community at Lafayette, particularly focusing on closeted students. Stacy-Ann Pearson ‘15 was one of the two founders of the group, and her interview makes clear that BCD was necessary because the communities that did exist were often too public for closeted queer students to feel comfortable attending, leaving these students without any type of support: “we didn’t want to quiet the out community, because it was so important for that community to be out.  But we do also have a very large community of closeted individuals.” Pearson further states, “We had days when only one person showed up and it was just Berger and myself and this other person. So we had to work through those times, but we knew that it was necessary. Because Berger and I both knew that for us, this would have been a space that we would have wanted when we were freshmen.” [time stamps] Finally, Leah Wasacz ‘16, a prominent member of the community and another interviewee of the site, states, “BCD, when I started going, was like half-Black, and Stacy is Jamaican, and we had international students there -- and Gay men, and Lesbians, and I was a trans person.  It was so -- a microcosm of what Lafayette talks about when they talk about diversity,” expounding on the diversity and inclusiveness of BCD as a community available to all queer students on Lafayette’s campus [time stamp].

It is important to note that BCD doesn’t follow all of the conventions of a Hidden Community as defined here; in fact, the fact that we are able to talk about it so directly is an indication that the community is not quite so hidden. Specifically, BCD advertises its existence and has at least one member who is known as the contact person for people wanting to join the organization. Thus, in some ways, BCD behaves more like an Explicit Community than a Hidden one. However, it’s meeting times and locations are a secret to non-members and it is asked that members not reveal the identity of other members or anything brought up in discussion outside meetings. BCD essentially acts as a Hidden Community which has sacrificed some of its obfuscation to be more accessible to students who need it as a resource.

Perhaps a more accurate example of a Hidden Community is the Mattachine Society at Lafayette. This organization was mentioned in an interview with Professor Emerita Lynn Van Dyke, but no archival evidence has been found of its existence. Van Dyke comments,

...there’s a retired, now deceased, male faculty member that we got to know somewhat, who told us about the sort of Mattachine Society, kind of meetings of men in the pre-coed days.  That there was a group of male, gay, male faculty members, who would meet off campus very quietly. I think this guy told us that there was a period -- maybe Ann will know about this -- there was a period during the ‘50s -- it would have been very early in his time -- when they felt they could be more open, you know, in their behavior at least, and then that closed down again.  So, you know, there is a history that unfortunately the archives probably will never be able to get. [18:00-20:00]

Due to the nature of Hidden Communities, they are difficult to document. However, they serve an invaluable purpose for those who do not have the freedom to express their identities openly. Hidden Communities remain a pillar of queer communities at large.


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