Update on Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony


Collaboratory Partner, The Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT) recently announced the hire of a new archivist to support their Bridging the Gap project. Mary Corbett (MLIS) will be joining ALOT, bringing her skills in archives, community engagement, and digital tools to the project.

ALOT's new Archivist, Mary Corbett

ALOT’s new Archivist, Mary Corbett

Principal Investigator Elise Chenier (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver) was awarded a major research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for this new project, which explores how digital architectures of participation on websites can build connections between ALOT and the communities the archives serves. This research will not only advance ALOT’s own infrastructure, it will also improve understanding of how to build digital archives that invite meaningful public engagement.

ALOT will be travelling to several communities gathering new oral histories and empowering community members to use new web tools to engage with these histories. Their first stop is Nelson, B.C.

You can follow ALOT’s updates directly via their Facebook Page.

Reflections on the SRS De/Re-Listing Interview Project


At the beginning of almost every SRS interview, Nick asked the question “Where were you in 1998 when SRS was delisted?” My answer is fairly boring. I was still in diapers and barely two years old. But the answers that I’ve been lucky enough to hear from interviewees including Martine Stonehouse, Greta Bower, Susan Gapka, Nick Mule, Cheri Dinovo, Anna Travers and Rupert Raj have been far from that.

The SRS delisting interview project was headed by Nicholas Matte as part of his postdoctoral work with the LGBTQ Digital History Collaboratory. Having experience in Trans Studies courses, working with community organizations, and being involved in a large amount of trans activism, Nick decided to focus on the oral histories of the delisting of SRS in Ontario because of the way that these stories connect with many other significant narratives regarding queer and trans health and activism. This project allowed Nick to document testimony from major trans and trans ally activists that is bound to be valuable in the future. In wake of this year’s Toronto pride, mainly the great expansion of Trans Pride and the work of Black Lives Matter TO, it is evident now more than ever that there is still a great amount of work to be done to address trans issues, lives, and activism in all of their complexities.

a man and a woman stand in front of a stained glass window

Nick Matte & Anna Travers

Over three months we had the chance to interview Martine Stonehouse, Greta Bower, Susan Gapka, Nick Mule, Cheri Dinovo, Anna Travers and Rupert Raj. The majority of these interviews saw the quiet reading room of the CLGA turned into a bright studio, fully equipped with lights, our trusty Canon camera, and a team consisting of Nick, two crew members, and the interviewee. The Memorial Stained Glass Window provided the perfect backdrop as interviewees took hours to share their stories with us. Along the way we figured out the perfect method that worked for us, from learning to track down a piece of the lapel mic that always seemed to go missing, situating the camera in a way that caught the interviewee’s eyeline, placing the interviewer in a way that caught the focus of the interviewees in the lens the camera, to always ensuring there were extra lightbulbs (almost every member of the team broke a lightbulb over the course of our interviews, it was an expensive rite of passage almost). As the weeks passed from early May to late July, our process moved from a hurried scramble to a quick and efficient dance, and the culmination of all of our efforts resulted in dozens of hours of oral history footage. This project was definitely a time intensive one, with each interview averaging four hours of work for each of the four people present, plus countless hours of interview preparation and post-interview video processing, but it was a project that left each of us with something special.

One of Nick’s major goals for this project was to learn to and practice conducting video oral histories, as well as instill those skills in us. As readers of our blog are most likely aware, our entire team went through extensive training so that we could operate as a film crew. Before working on this project alongside Nick and the rest of the team, I had only ever read transcriptions of oral histories while writing research papers, and my work behind a camera had been purely photographic. However, this project ensured that as work studies Oli and I were left with the skills and knowledge to conduct oral history interviews and videography skills that will be extremely helpful in any community work or research we do in the future. But videography skills weren’t the only thing that I was left with.

Nick & Susan


Even more special to me was the chance I had to share space with these great community leaders and activists while they took the time to share their often extremely personal narratives with us. A number of times I found myself wiping tears out of my eyes as I listened. Sometimes those were tears of rage for the horrific systems and burnout that our subjects had to face, other times from containing my laughter from a joke that a interview made in order to not ruin the audio.

For Nick, it was extremely meaningful that he had the chance to record these narratives that have been so often ignored. A key goal of his was to develop videography skills in order to create accessible oral histories with community members in a way that would be beneficial and accessible to the community. These skills went to great use in this project, as many of the narratives we had the chance to record may not have been recorded otherwise, and could have been lost. A major theme that came up time and time again throughout the interviews was activist burnout, and a name that came up just as often was Kyle Scanlon and the great work he did for the community. Nick was extremely glad that along with the (integral) work each of our interviewees have done for trans health and trans rights, the work of Kyle Scanlon was able to live on through these interviews through the people who each worked with him and can now speak about his work.

two men stand in front of a stained glass window

Rupert & Nick

Now that the SRS Interviews are complete, digital copies will be donated to the CLGA, as well as the Digital Transgender Archive and the UVic Trans Archives, where they’ll be accessible to researchers and community members. Though the end of July marked the end of this stage of the SRS Interview Project, Nick looks forward to expanding this work, as there is much more to be done and many other narratives to be heard.

Lesbians Making History Digital Collection Launch


The Lesbians Making History (LMH) Digital Collection is now available online through the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives new digital collections site. Streaming audio, full transcripts, and some images have been added to the collection and we will continue to build on this over the coming months. This is the last stage in the Collaboratory’s ongoing work to digitize and make available the Lesbians Making History tapes, an important record of mid-20th century lesbian life in Canada. This is also the first digital collection to launch on the CLGA’s new Omeka platform.

LMH on Vimeo

The LMH collective came together in the mid-1980s and was inspired by oral history projects of gay lives coming out of Buffalo, Boston and San Francisco. The collective interviewed 8 Toronto-based women about their experiences as ‘out’ lesbians in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Their stories discuss butch/femme dynamics, coming out, incarceration, sexual and romantic relationship, work, class, and feminist activist worlds. Detailed abstracts for each tape are available through the digital collections site.

In 2014 the original LMH audio tapes were given to the Collaboratory. Embedded at the CLGA, Collaboratory members digitized LMH materials and created new verbatim transcriptions. Original LHM collective members assisted with editing transcripts, identifying key words and writing abstracts for each oral history interview. Special thanks to Maureen FitzGerald, an original collective member who has been instrumental in the digitization process.

Ontario SRS De/Relisting Project Interviews: Rupert Raj & Anna Travers


As you may have read in our previous posts, this summer we have been conducting a number of oral history interviews focusing on the 1998 delisting and 2008 re-listing of sex reassignment surgeries in Ontario. This July our team had the pleasure to finish up the series of interviews with Rupert Raj and Anna Travers, two integral activists in the fight to have SRS relisted in Ontario, and major figures in trans healthcare in Ontario since.

two men stand in front of a stained glass window

Rupert Raj and Nick Matte

Rupert Raj has worked as a trans activist since the 1970s, as well as a trans medical professional since the 1990s. Along with sharing his experiences regarding the formation of the Trans Health Lobby Group, his work alongside Susan Gapka as a principal investigator in the Ontario Public Health Association’s Trans Health Project, and his involvement with groups such as EGALE and Rainbow Health, Rupert also gave us personal insight into his experiences navigating the health system while transitioning over the span of four decades. Rupert spoke passionately about the need for barrier free trans health care even after the 2008 relisting, citing gatekeeping, lack of resources, and the lack of OHIP approved SRS clinics as just some of the currently existing barriers.

Anna Travers has served as a fierce ally for trans health rights, and was spoken highly about throughout our series of interviews by many different interviewees. Anna spoke at length about her experiences working with George Smitherman to develop a proposal for Rainbow Health Ontario, as well as working with CAMH and in the community to address gaps and needs in trans health care. Travers’ work has been integral to the formation of trans health care infrastructure in Ontario, and her experiences gave great insight into the ways that the work done between 1998 and 2008 has continued into the present day.

a man and a woman stand in front of a stained glass window

Nick Matte & Anna Travers

We were lucky to have the chance to interview Rupert and Anna in succession, as their histories and experiences complimented the other’s very well. Both shared their activist knowledge and lived experiences with us, as well as the perspective of working on the inside as a health provider for trans individuals. Both Rupert and Anna played a key role in promoting and growing trans health care infrastructure, and both worked at the Sherbourne Health Centre pre and post relisting, Anna from 2001 to 2016, and Rupert from 2002 until early 2017*. The Sherbourne Health Centre has served a key role in providing the infrastructure for trans and queer health in Toronto, largely in relation to the sheer amount of trans folk who inquired at the clinic after not being able to access hormones or surgery elsewhere. Rupert spoke about the major backlog that the SHC experience post relisting, exemplifying that the effects of the 1998 delisting didn’t end in 2008.

Next week our blog will focus on reflecting on the SRS Delisting and Relisting Interview project as a whole, and will feature reflections from project leader Nicholas Matte, as well as the rest of the team.

*Rupert Raj is on Long Term Disability and is not currently working at the Sherbourne Health Centre. He will formally retire February 2017.

Omeka Training at the Collaboratory


Exciting things are happening here at the collaboratory! Today we were lucky enough to be trained by Al Stanton-Hagan on how to use Omeka, an open source web-publishing platform for the display of museum and archival collections and exhibitions.

Al Stanton-Hagan uses a CLGA Omeka exhibit as a training example.

Al led us through an extremely thorough yet easy to understand training session, and we at the collaboratory are so excited for the possibilities that Omeka gives us in publishing our materials. Going forward, Omeka will give us the capability to create easily accessible online exhibitions of our projects, from Lesbians Making History to Foolscap. Omeka exhibits can include image, audio, pdf and video files, making it easy for audiences to view all pieces that we have collected in our projects.

Nick and Elspeth watch Al’s presentation.


In the next two weeks our blog will focus on the SRS re & de-listing oral history project as the interview stage wraps up. Look forward to reflections on the interviews as well as the project as a whole.

Outside the Collaboratory: Cait McKinney’s “Tape Condition: degraded”

photo of one side of the installation, featuring a leather arm chair seated in front of an old tube tv connected to a vhs player.

All photos taken by Toni Hafkenscheid

This summer we’ve been lucky enough to have Cait McKinney back on the Toronto team of the Collaboratory. Alongside her work with the team, Cait has been busy with Tape Condition: degraded, her joint installation with Hazel Meyer. Tape Condition: degraded is housed in the gallery of the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives, and opened June 16th.

another piece of the installation, a black and white print of a hand raised beside an old computer with a graphic featuring the word "start" on it.

A hole in the wall acts as the entrance to Tape Condition: degraded, representing the attempts that were made to protect the CLGA’s pornographic material from police raids in the 1980s. Tape Condition: degraded engages with the CLGA’s collection of over 3000 VHS tapes, one third of which are pornographic. These tapes are vital to the CLGA’s collection and history, as well as to the act of preserving queer desires and sexual subcultures. This installation also engages with the medium of tape itself, questioning how we can bring aging and degrading tapes into the present. Alongside the work of Cait McKinney and Hazel Meyer, Tape Condition: degraded features the art and writing of 11 other academics and artists, including our very own Nick Matte.

photo of the digitization station, featuring an imac, digitization equipment, dvds, and an old type writer.






photo of framed pieces by hazel meyer displayed across one wall In the centre of the installation sits a digitization station, the glittering chrome of an iMac fitting in surprisingly well with the yellowed typewriter beside it. This digitization station is a working one, and is available for community members to digitize their own tapes on select days throughout the summer.

Tonight, July 8th, Cait McKinney and Hazel Meyer will be giving a performance lecture, followed be a VJ dance party, at Buddies in Bad Times theatre. For details about this event, please see the Facebook event page. Community digitization days will occur on July 13, 5pm – 10pm and July 27,  5pm – 10pm, and the exhibition runs until September 18th. See here for more information about Tape Condition: degraded.

photo of a wall decal of drawings of vhs tapes with various suggestive titles including "queer as the sea" and "macho sluts"


Catching Up with Partner Projects: The Digital Transgender Archive


Digital Transgender Archive logo, showing different objects circling around a computer beside the name of the archive and the subtitle "trans history, linked"

This week’s post marks the first in a series of posts catching up with our collaboratory partner projects. We have four different partner projects including The Digital Transgender Archive, which is based in Worcester, Massachusetts at the College of the Holy Cross and directed by Dr. K.J Rawson.

The Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is an online repository that provides an accessible online hub for digitized historical materials as well as born-digital materials, along with information on international archival holdings. The DTA is an international collaboration among more than twenty universities and organizations, and was founded in order to make trans history accessible for scholars and independent researchers as well as spark discussions and dialogue around trans history.

graphic from DTA website, depicting diverse sillohuettes of people in orange and blue, the archive's colours



The DTA recently passed the 1000 item mark in their collection, and, this past June, Keith Plummer of the DTA had the chance to travel to London and represent the archive in the Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections Conference (ALMS). The ALMS Conference is focused on the work of collecting, capturing, and preserving LGBTQ+ artifacts and archives. This was a great opportunity for the Archive, as it gave them the chance to connect with organizations across the globe, and share the work that they do as well. Another exciting update is that the Archive has added audio files to their resources. The DTA now has 10+ files accessible on their website, including a recording of the First International Symposium on Gender Identity in London.

The Digital Transgender Archive maintains a regularly updated Facebook page and news section on their website. Their online materials are easily accessible, and can be found by using the search bar at the top of the front page of their website.


*graphics c/o: Digital Transgender Archive 

Summer Work Study: My First Few Weeks at the Collaboratory/Taryn Parker



[Photo of work study student Taryn]

Hi there!  name is Taryn Parker and I was recently taken on as a Social Media Specialist for the Oral History Collaboratory.  I’m going into my third year at University of Toronto St. George Campus studying Women and Gender Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies. Although I was hired to operate social media, I’ve had the pleasure to work with multiple ongoing projects at the collaboratory. I will be working on making this site more accessible and easier to navigate with Cait McKinney, who we are lucky enough to have back. I also had the pleasure to brush up on my videography skills in our training last week, and had the chance to sit in on Nick Matte’s interview with Cheri DiNovo yesterday for the SRS de-listing and re-listing project. The rest of my time is split between audio editing and, you guessed it, working on social media efforts.
I still can’t wrap my head around all of the things that I’ve been lucky enough to learn throughout the past few weeks. As well as the great people I get to work with and the amazing stories I get to overhear in the A/V room.

More video training @ CLGA!


[two people stand behind a video camera, one teaching the other how to use it. Another person sits beside a lighting umbrella]Now that our interviews are well underway for our oral history project on the de- & re-listing of Sex Reassignment Surgery (funding) in Ontario, our team is becoming more experienced and continuing to develop our videography and interviewing skills. This past week we conducted training at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, giving us all a chance to become more proficient in the use of our video and lighting equipment, and preparing new team members to act as the film crew during interviews.

[One person looks into viewfinder of camera on tripod, two other people adjust the tripod]The training, led by Nick Matte, covered essentials about our equipment such as differences between (and functions of) lavalier microphones versus the internal camera microphone, as well as the option of working with a shotgun microphone (which we’ve decided not to use for these interviews). Everyone got a “hands-on” chance to put together the lighting equipment, practice testing and balancing the incoming audio feeds, and other similar tasks. We also discussed and practiced determining good lighting and subject placement, and went over the logistics of how interviewing in someone’s home or office differs from interviewing in a location where we have time to set-up before meeting with our interviewee. We also learned how to wrap cables so that they don’t become twisted and degrade, and we confirmed that the fluorescent spiral bulbs are indeed very fragile, in case there was any doubt!

Next week our newest Collaboratory work-study student will be blogging about her introduction to working with the project and will share more about what she’s been working on, so stay tuned for that!

[collaboratory Toronto team together in front of fire place and lighting equipment. from left to right: Oli, Nick, Al, Elspeth, Taryn, and Cait]

Foolscap Project – Jim


[black and white photo of digitization equipment and headphones]

blog post by Oli Bédard

On a deserted Sunday at the CLGA the shadows run long from grey light in the half dismantled exhibit room, and outside on Isabella Street, Toronto is a swamp of late May. In a cool back room I listen to Jim, talking about his therapists in a low voice.

He had many.

Jim sat down with John Gruber to be interviewed for the “Foolscap” Gay Oral History Project on December 17th, 1984, and there seems to be reticence in the tone of his replies. Not long into the interview, Gruber pauses the tape recorder and I’m left with a wordless space where some exchange has certainly occurred; when the audio resumes, he is explaining the intention of the project as though in response to some questioning from Jim. “I’m interested in the social history,” he says, and later: “Everybody has a story.” Jim’s discomfort seems to arise from the practical necessity of sharing personal details in an oral history interview. I soon learn that one of the primary themes of this particular interview is gay experiences of psychiatry, and Jim’s unease does not come as a surprise. At the time of the interview Jim was 50 years old; he had been through the mill, from CBT, to Gestalt, to conversion therapy, and even some electro-shock aversion techniques. During the latter he was compelled to sit in a chair and watch a slide show for which he held the remote control. Various images were displayed to him, and when a sexualized image of a man appeared, he was to click the remote for the next image post haste. If this response lacked immediacy, he was subjected to a jolt of electricity. Some of his various therapists treated his attraction to other men as a disease to be cured, others simply advised him to remain celibate.

Listening to the details of Jim’s psychiatric travails, and to Gruber’s questions, I begin to consider the queerness of queer being. Truly all existence is strange, but the layered strangeness of being queer in the context of heteronormativity can only deepen one’s questioning of one’s own being. I think that this oral history making is, among other things, a response to deeply felt inquiries on the nature of the self in alterity. This interview reveals just as much about Gruber as it does about Jim, and just as much about the larger river of community experience from which their exchanges emerge. I think the desire to preserve community voices in this way, to have answers to the particular questions of queer life in all its multiplicity, is the same desire that motivates us to ask why, and how, we exist in this world.

The house on Isabella is dead quiet as the day wanes, and when I go out for coffee, coolness has cut through the heat. I pass a young couple in George Hislop park, and a calm descends over this back way of the city. The wind breathes relief from heat, but it has no language, no coherent answer.