As we finally emerge from Covid into Pride Month, there has never been a better time to remember the past and the lessons it has to teach us. Pride celebrations are upon us, and exciting new collections have just been obtained by the Providence Public Library (PPL) to add to its burgeoning Rhode Island LGBTQ+ community archive.
LGBTQ+ rights could not have been achieved without the tribulations and endeavors of generations past. Two new collections obtained by PPL are AIDS Project RI’s photographic documentation of AIDS activists, Pride Parades, and Walk for Life events; and The Kim Deacon Collection documenting the Kings and Queens Bar, which Deacon owned, in Woonsocket from 1979-2002. “The bar was a sanctuary to all during a time of marginalization,” Deacon says.
Deacon bought the bar from a nightclub singer and close friend named Rita. From the beginning, the local LGBTQ+ community embraced it as a place for their tribe to come together and support one another. Kim recalls a Labor Day weekend in the 1980s when the community came together to raise money to help a man who had come upon hard times. They cleaned his home and fitted it with everything he would need to lead a happier and more comfortable life. This was at the heart of all those who frequented Kings and Queens: unwavering love and support.
Kate Wells, curator of Rhode Island special collections at the Providence Public Library, has been working with archives for sixteen years. Her team is currently working to organize these two additions for the Rhode Island LGBTQ+ Archive, as well as materials on Francis Renault, who grew up in Providence and became a renowned female impersonator with a very expansive wardrobe of costumes. Over the coming months, Kate and her team will be working with donors to archive the materials making it more accessible to researchers.
When initially starting the Rhode Island LGBTQ+ Community Archive, Kate says, “There were snippets of records about the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, but no one place to hold a comprehensive collection.” A community advisory board was formed a few years ago, from lifelong residents of Rhode Island in their eighties, to newer members of the community in their twenties. Last year the project was put on hold due to Covid, but now that the library system is reopening, it is time to make the archive available.
How may one see these collections? Researchers will be able to access the digital records at http://provlibdigital.org/ once all of the new collections have been catalogued and scanned. Meanwhile, researchers can access the entire collection in person by making an appointment with Kate. Call (401) 455-8028 or email email@example.com.