Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender histories have been commonly regarded as 'hidden' histories. Evidence has all too often been actively suppressed or destroyed, leading to incorrect beliefs that these histories do not exist, or that queer sexuality and its impact on society is limited to the present and the very recent past. Even while this is acknowledged to be false by many individuals and institutions, there is still a dearth of identified historical material that sheds light on the place of queer sexuality in the story of Victoria, leaving an imbalanced and inaccurate picture of the State's past.
Yet Victoria has a very rich and diverse history in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience. Part of this diversity and richness has been documented by the archival and public work of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives since its establishment in 1978. Other organisations, such as the Women's Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives, the New Frontier Dance Association and individuals, have also been documenting information and collecting the material culture of queer communities. All, however, face significant challenges in both resources and broader public support and recognition. The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, for instance, is a self-funded community group reliant upon volunteers. Its efforts to collect and preserve material and make it accessible to the public has been significantly limited by lack of resources, and, proactive research and accumulation has proved challenging.
Conversely, major public collecting institutions such as Museum Victoria and the State Library of Victoria have much work yet to do to recognise and organise relevant material within their collections, make their collections accessible to the public, and run public programs around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender histories and experiences. In 2005-2006 a pilot survey was undertaken by Museum Victoria, in conjunction with the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the State Library of Victoria, to show that with some targeted resource provision for research, we can unearth important and exciting documentation of an important and hitherto 'hidden' aspect of Victoria's, and indeed Australia's, past. The broad aims of the project included improved knowledge, representation and interpretation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender material in public collections. It aimed to promote the development of strategies for encouraging discussion and awareness of homosexuality in the mainstream community. It also aimed to begin to provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Victorians with a sense of inclusion in the broader story of our heritage. The survey has provided an opportunity for the celebration of political and social achievements, and recognition of the tenets of equal opportunity and human rights for all Victorians.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender project has been of both symbolic and practical significance to major Victorian collecting institutions and to GLBT communities in Victoria. It has demonstrated the importance of active collecting, documentation and research into histories which have been and largely remain hidden, and has shown the value of material which exists in both public and private collections. It has identified areas in which resources are urgently required to document and maintain the material record of GLBT communities in Victoria, provided the groundwork for a broader, nation-wide survey and suggested a range of strategies for improving representation of cultural diversity in our major collecting institutions.
Davison, Kate, 2006. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Material Survey. Museum Victoria, Melbourne.