British Columbia

UBC Library exhibit shows queer history through curated display

A love letter written in code, educational pamphlets and a dictionary written in a secret language are just a few of the items displayed at A Queer History, 1869-1969 at UBC. 

The collection will be on display until August 30, 2019

One of the books that are part of A Queer Century, 1869 – 1969 exhibition at UBC's Irving k. Barber Learning Centre. (UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections)

A love letter written in code, educational pamphlets and a dictionary written in a secret language are just a few of the items displayed at A Queer History, 1869-1969 at UBC. 

The exhibit, displayed at the Irving k. Barber Learning Centre's Rare Books & Special Collections, is a collection of works that explores the history of homosexuality from 1869-1969. Co-curator Kyle Frankman said he and fellow curator Gregory Mackie were inspired to create the collection by LGBT milestones that have significant anniversaries in 2019. 

"We have the anniversary with the the emergence of homosexuality as a named concept in Central Europe in 1869 as well as the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 in Canada and the Stonewall uprising in 1969 in New York City," said Frackman over the phone. 

Frackman said the exhibit shows the long history of sexual minorities and how many of the issues talked about back then are still relevant today, such as questions of identification and how people are discriminated against. 

'Extraordinary' items 

Frackman described some of the items on display as "extraordinary," including a book called The Female Impersonators which was published in 1922 by Jennie June who was born Earl Lind. 

"This was one of the first autobiographies and memoirs of a trans person," said Frackman. 

He said the book has quite a bit of resonance for ongoing debates about personal identification, pronoun use and how people choose to see themselves. 

Frackman also said they have a 19th century postcard between two female lovers on display that had a code along the bottom of the card. While visiting the display, the code intrigued English Literature graduate student Karoline Pasciano and she decided to try to crack it. 

A postcard on display at A Queer Century, 1869 – 1969 exhibition at the UBC Library. (UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections)

Pasciano explained over the phone the code was alphanumeric, meaning the numbers corresponded with the order of the letters in the alphabet. 

"It's a very tender, romantic message exchanged between these two women and it makes sense that it was encrypted since this postcard was written in 1902," said Pasciano. "That's the kind of thing that lesbian women could not say to each other openly."

The exhibit will run until Aug. 30, 2019, at UBC's Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. 

now