Project Makes Historic LGBTQ Newspaper Available Online

An initiative to put the full contents of the longest-running continuously published LGBTQ weekly in the United States online has reached its first milestone with the posting of five years of historic back issues.

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Photo by Gerard Koskovich - Project archivist Bill Levay scanning issues of the Bay Area Reporter at the GLBT Historical Society.

The GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco has been working for a year to digitise the Bay Area Reporter, founded in 1971. The newspaper’s own website offers articles published since 2005, but earlier issues of the publication had previously been available only at the society’s archives or via microfilm in a handful of research libraries.

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“The Bay Area Reporter is an exceptional resource for historians, students, preservationists, writers, filmmakers, genealogy enthusiasts and everyone who’s curious about the LGBTQ past,” said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society. “Through news and features, critical reviews, nightlife reports, editorials and opinion columns published over nearly half a century, the paper has reflected the dynamism and diversity of LGBTQ communities in the Bay Area, a region internationally recognised as a centre of queer culture.”

Michael Yamashita, publisher of the Bay Area Reporter since 2013 and majority owner of the publication since December 2017, added the following: “This invaluable resource is made possible thanks to the initiative of the GLBT Historical Society and the generosity of the Bob Ross Foundation. For the first time, readers from all over the world will be able to conveniently access the nearly 50-year archive of the BAR. It’s fascinating to browse through the years and appreciate what the LGBTQ community has achieved in San Francisco.”

Foundation Provided Full Funding

With full funding from the San Francisco-based Bob Ross Foundation, the GLBT Historical Society acquired the specialised equipment and hired the staff needed to undertake the digitisation project. Tom Horn, trustee of the foundation, stressed the exceptional historical value of the content the project is making available:

“Launching an online, searchable archive of the Bay Area Reporter is a tremendous step toward giving scholars and the public alike access to a first draft of the history of our movement,” he noted. “Users will see what the issues of the time were; the personalities who shaped our movement; what was happening politically, socially and culturally. They will even see how gay people met, socialised, sought housing and found lovers — and how advertisers reached out to our community. The online archive will be an indispensable tool in telling our story.”

The July 28, 2005, issue of the Bay Area Reporter is the last included in the new online archive. Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.
The July 28, 2005, issue of the Bay Area Reporter is the last included in the new online archive. Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.

With assistance from nine volunteers, the GLBT Historical Society has already scanned nearly 600 of the 1,500 issues published by the Bay Area Reporter from 1971 to 2005. The five-year span covering 2000 to 2005 is now available free of charge via one of the organisations partnering on the project, the California Digital Newspaper Collection, hosted by the University of California, Riverside. The Historical Society plans to post all the remaining back issues before the end of the year.

“It’s clear what a rich and fascinating resource this digital archive will be,” said Bill Levay, the project archivist overseeing the digitisation for the GLBT Historical Society. “I’m especially excited to see what eye-opening digital humanities projects might spring from this collection.”

First issue of the Bay Area Reporter, published April 1, 1971. Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.
First issue of the Bay Area Reporter, published April 1, 1971. Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.

Levay adds that the GLBT Historical Society is continuing to recruit volunteers to assist with digitising the remaining issues of the Bay Area Reporter. For details about volunteering, contact him at bill@glbthistory.org.

For more information about the project and to search the historic issues of the Bay Area Reporter that are now posted online, visit www.glbthistory.org/bar.

Photo by Gerard Koskovich – Project archivist Bill Levay scanning issues of the Bay Area Reporter at the GLBT Historical Society.