Swimming With Lesbians Clip





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Published on Mar 2, 2010

It has been said, Gays have a past but no history. Gays and Lesbians dont grow up immersed in gay history, it is something they must search for. Swimming with Lesbians explores an upstate New York communitys efforts to create an LGBT historic archive - led by the extraordinary Madeline Davis. 

Madeline has not sat on the sidelines of LGBT history: she is a person that has been making waves for decades. In addition to writing and recording the song Stonewall Nation, produced by the Mattachine Society, she was the first openly lesbian elected delegate to speak at the Democratic National Convention, she taught the first Lesbianism course ever offered at a major American university, and she co-authored a seminal history of blue collar lesbian life, "Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold." 

Buffalos archive is more than just the proof that the raw material of history exists. It is for many an important acknowledgement of a struggle to be seen, acknowledged and known. For Madeline, it is a story of passion and power: within the individual stories found in the archive, the past takes shape and forms the history of gay civil rights.

Buffalo, New York is a conservative blue collar city, an unlikely and surprising home for an archive of this scope. The social change that made gay rights possible was not always welcomed in Buffalo. Swimming with Lesbians looks at how people like Madeline and others in places like Buffalo, New York moved Gay rights out of the urban gay meccas and onto Main Streets in small towns.

Madelines archive introduces five Buffalo residents: Peggy, David, Camille, Tangara, and Vicki. Born David Dietrich in 1927, Peggys family declared her dead in 1975 when Peggy had her surgery. There are very few pictures of Peggy, her family destroyed them - but fortunately her friends donated a vast store of letters to the archive. These letters paint a vivid picture of her life. Portions of her letters are read by Camille, a transgendered woman who found hope in Peggys story. She was a warrior, a fighter, trying to live an authentic life. Camille transitioned in 2001 and has tried ever since to remain in Buffalo at her job in city government. Whereas Peggy withstood the abuses of her family, teenagers and adults with grace and determination, refusing to leave her town, Camille has come to realize that she is not willing to wait for acceptance. I want someone to grow old with. Im 56. I want someone to hold me. I cant find that here.

A 92 year old drag queen and a Buffalo institution, Tangara worked for Mae West and travelled across 1930s United States in a Gay Boy Review. Now, 92, he has left all of his material to the archive.

Madeline poignantly summarizes her motivations for starting the archive when she says, We are ephemeral. We will be gone. This is for the ages. Madeline is determined to see this archive installed in a library or university in Buffalo, but continues to struggle with the straight gate-keepers who hold the key to validation of her lifes work. For Madeline, a life-long librarian and keeper of the past, much hangs on that decision.

David B. Marshall 2009 67 min. USA


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