Ideas for a GLAMorous homotopia

This month I’ve been listening to an excellent podcast series  on Radio National called Homotopia  produced Bec Zajac and reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson whilst reflecting on identity for GLAM blog club, and I thought I’d bring it all together by sharing some ideas to help libraries be a homotopia in order to create a space in which LGBTIQA+ people feel safe, celebrated and free to be themselves, and are able to freely access information without risk of prejudice, harassment or discrimination.

The tagline for the series is:

“Homotopia: A utopia for homosexuals. A place where queer people go to socialise, work, eat, shop, learn, pray, dance or date where they feel they can be completely themselves.” 

I love the positive utopia focus as all too often we only hear and see neg. ative stories of homophobia, biphobia, intersex discrimination and transphobia like Trump’s recent decision to ban trans people from serving in the US military. The podcast talked a lot about LGBTIQA+ parties and clubs, which is really great, but where are the safe spaces for those who are socially anxious, introverted or simply more into book clubs than nightclubs and metadata parties than queer parties…. Libraries could be the perfect and most GLAMorous spaces!

This list is a mix of things I’ve seen in libraries and LGBTIQA+ organisations and ideas I’ve had that build on and connect them. People may automatically think these are things only public libraries can do, but I think a lot of them could be adapted for academic, school and perhaps corporate libraries to ensure LGBTIQA+ people feel comfortable, safe and celebrated where they study and work.

Just to clareify, the most crucial thing to do is listen to what your communities need, but often you won’t really get authentic and honest answers unless you’ve created a space in which they feel safe and comfortable telling you.

  • Collaborate and form partnerships with social workers, youth workers, counsellors and other health professionals, as well as LGBTIQA+ community organisations and groups, to increase your understanding and awareness about what your LGBTIQA+ community members need and collectively work out how you can help pool together resources and skills in order to respond to these needs.
  • Make sure your library has all gender or gender neutral toilet options.
  • Either remove gender specific language (like prefixes Ms, Mr, Miss, etc) from patron notices, library cards, and forms or include gender neutral/non-binary options like Mx.
  • Respect members privacy and confidentiality.
  • Have LGBTIQA+ book displays and/or exhibitions for LGBTIQA+ festivals, Pride Month (or week on campus), IDAHOBIT, Wear It Purple day and beyond.
  • Host metadata parties with tea, cake and cataloguing to bring LGBTIQA+ people together and create a sense of community in a quiet and nerdy way where they can both socialise and hide behind their computers. You could have metadata parties to help people augment the catalogue with tags/folksonomies, book reviews, recommendations and and create book lists in order to make LGBTIQA+ information more easily findable and accessible. Classification systems like the widely used Dewey Decimal one have historically been homophobic (not to mention sexist and racist), so there is definitely a need to augment them (if not completely overhaul them… yet). You could also host metadata parties to ensure your local history collections include LGBTIQA+ histories.
  • Co-create and promote community resource lists in your library’s (online and physical) spaces. Check out Rainbow Valley City Council’s extensive Melbourne LGBTIQ+ contacts and resources list for inspiration. This is particularly important for health and legal information, where it is necessary to help people find reputable, trustworthy and safe information. Help front-line customer service staff connect people with this information and support services (such as crisis accommodation, counselling, help-lines and drop-in services), as well as social and inclusive religious groups.
  • Index the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria online library in your catalogue and facilitate access to a large and diverse range of open access LGBTIQA+ reports and related material.
  • Host LGBTIQA+ book clubs, book chats or reading circles and/or try some bibliotherapy.
  • Host zine making workshops and start a zine collection to increase representation of LGBTIQA+ and other marginalised voices.
  • Host drag storytime events, spoken word events, panel discussions and roundtable discussions.
  • Provide a safe, central meeting space for your local council’s LGBTIQA+ youth group if they have one (or your university’s queer department).
  • Speak up in response to library visitors who express homophobic, biphobic or transphobic views or engage in any discriminatory behaviour. It may help to have a clearly written and visible non-discrimination and/or  zero-tolerance policy towards harassment of any kind that you can refer to.
  • Whenever you bring LGBTIQA+ people together for any of these the above or any other meetings, start the meeting by encouraging everyone to introduce themselves and their pronouns or have them write their pronouns on a name tag – rather than make assumptions about people’s gender.
  • If you have email contact with your community members, add your pronouns to your email signature.

This list is not exhaustive and is also not the most clarefully crafted thing I have written, but I wanted to get something out there on this topic even though it is not ‘perfect’. I’m keen to build on it some time when it’s not the first week of semester and very much welcome further ideas and feedback on the list.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check out the list of Rainbow Resources on this site.

Finally, come to Adelaide for a workshop on Understanding and creating strategies for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the GLAM sector (with discounts for Museums Galleries Australia (MGA), Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), and Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) members) and a conference on Australian queer history.

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