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Online exhibit seeks to uncover the overlooked history of Vancouver’s women’s movement
By Caylin Barrett
Kirstie Goodfellow and Holly French were the grand prize winners of Simon Fraser University’s Student-Community Engagement Award in 2019. The focus of their project, which was overseen by SFU history professor Ele Chenier, was to shine a spotlight the often overlooked history of the LGBTQ and women’s movements in Vancouver. Their exhibition, titled "An Army of Lovers" takes it’s name from Rita Mae Brown’s 1974 poem "Sappho’s Reply”, and recounts the oral histories of lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit and queer women living in the city in the 1970s and 80s.
The public exhibit was set to open in March but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the exhibition has been converted to a virtual format, and all of the all of the interview clips, banners and materials are free for visitors to enjoy at the Army of Lovers online archive. When the time comes to open the country back up, Goodfellow says the team hopes to take their exhibition to the ArQuives, a public archive of information and materials in any medium, by and about LGBTQ2+ people, primarily produced in or concerning Canada.
The ‘Army of Lovers’ online site is part of the larger Archive of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT). The research Goodfellow and French worked on for Army of Lovers includes a series of interview clips from a diverse range of same-sex attracted women who “confronted homophobia, bi-phobia, and trans-phovbia not only in mainstream society, but also in the women’s movement itself” in the 1970s and 80s.
Visitors are invited to listen and learn as they share stories about organizing events, forming organizations, living and loving during this dynamic era. One subject describes what it was like living in a women’s collective, while another recounts her life-long activism fighting for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Their stories are diverse and themes of resilience, strength and rebellion bind them together.
Goodfellow describes the process of editing these clips as the most challenging aspect of putting the project together. She had to be very selective in order to ensure that she was capturing the spirit and intent of the individual’s oral history interviews.
“Our clips for the exhibit are 1-2 minutes, and the interviews themselves are around 60 minutes. It was hard to make an executive decision and take only 2 minutes of their story! Especially because their entire story is extremely interesting and inspiring, not only for a history major but for anyone who may be interested to learn more about lesbian, trans, and Two-Spirit histories.”
As a historically under-researched area, LGBTQ2+ history is as challenging as it is rewarding. Goodfellow says it was ultimately incredibly gratifying to place these stories at the forefront and make their histories known.
“I have learned so much about Vancouver's diverse history from the 70s and 80s through this process. There is certainly more to our city than meets the eye! It has been a privilege to work with these individuals, and I am so grateful to have met them. They have all been so gracious and accommodating.”
Above all, she says, they hope that An Army of Lovers will galvanize their visitors to continue the struggle for justice and equality for all.
"Their stories remind folks today to stand up for what we believe in, even if we're afraid of doing it 'wrong.' Just do it!”