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City calls for help identifying key people and moments in Vancouver’s LGBTQ2 history

A treasure trove of images from an era when just being out as LGBTQ2 was dangerous, have now been digitized. As Paul Johnson reports, the city now needs your help to complete a picture of the community's history.

The City of Vancouver has finished digitizing thousands of images, audio tracks and videos of its LGBTQ2 history — but it needs your help identifying some of the people and events they capture.

The city spent a year digitizing 5,400 photographs, 2,000 posters and 140 audio-visual works from the BC Gay and Lesbian Archives, which span from the 1940s to the 2000s.

Now the city is asking the public to help them fill in the details for roughly 1,000 of those images, holding a free event at SUM Gallery Saturday at which residents can view the collection.

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The photos capture everything from drag performances to protests at City Hall and throughout Vancouver. First Nations drag performers, HIV/AIDS and transgender activists, LGBTQ2 seniors and youth groups, and religious groups are all represented.

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As the city notes, the collection tells “the story of a long and powerful history of LGBTQ2+ resistance, solidarity, and strength” by depicting a community that has “historically been underrepresented in archival holdings.”

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The massive collection was started in 1976 by Ron Dutton, an active member of the LGBTQ2 community who maintained the materials until donating them to the city archives last May.

The City of Vancouver Archives received $71,000 from the National Heritage Digitization Strategy last October. The money not only funded the digitization itself, but also helped connect the city with LGBTQ2 community members and researchers who filled in historical details.

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“Through promotional and photo identification events, we were able to meet new researchers, potential donors of material, and members of the LGBTQ2+ community who expressed to us how meaningful it was to see themselves reflected in the archives and included as a pivotal part of the history of Vancouver,” city archivist Heather Gordon said in a statement.

The city’s free event runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the SUM Gallery on Keefer Street.

Those who can’t make the event can view the entire collection online and make suggestions on the city’s website.