From Gay Porn to Gay Rights, Library Delves into Sexuality

Feminist sex writer Susie Bright (Image credit: Cornell University)

One might not expect to find VHS covers of pornographic movies or prostitutes' trade cards at the library, but those items are among the racy ephemera Cornell University has been compiling since 1988 as part of its Human Sexuality Collection.

The archive is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its goal is to "encourage research on the many important and compelling topics related to sexuality," as well as to impact what people are able to know and think about human sexuality through preserving primary sources, according to its website.

The collection focuses largely on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) history in the United States and the politics of pornography. It includes a wide range of items, from snapshot albums of gay couples in the early 20th century to AIDS education posters of the 1990s and the diaries of prominent gay activists.

Other highlights include:

  • Papers donated by Brian McNaught, author of books on homophobia (anti-gay sentiment) in the workplace and other gay issues. One highlight: a daily diary kept during a 1974 hunger strike protesting the Catholic Church's views on homosexuality.
  • Papers donated by artist and North Carolina attorney Robert Lynch, who kept diaries of his thoughts and feelings about his family, his mixed ethnicity (Native American, African American and Euro-American), and his evolving sexuality as a gay man. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]
  • Gay male pornographic films from the 1970s.
  • Gay men's popular fiction collection, which includes "erotic and pornographic novels on gay men's subjects, including such themes as muscle, cowboy, sado-masochism, sailors, and leather," according to a summary of the entry.
  • Maryland lesbian photo album, thought to be from the 1940s. The album includes 30 photographs of women in various poses, from hugging to dancing.

Last week, the library announced that it's adding a new bundle to its shelves: the archival materials of feminist author and "sexpert" Susie Bright, which document sexual politics over the past 35 years and include the written history of "On Our Backs," the lesbian sex magazine Bright published in the 1990s.

"I've admired Cornell's archives of GLBT history for years — really, it's one of the world's finest when it comes to sexual representation, and the range of erotic and sexual identity in full flower," Bright said in a statement.

Bright will also deliver a "Sexual State of the Union Address" at Cornell on Wednesday (Jan. 23) to touch on the current status quo of sexuality in the country.

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