“Archive Activism”

Background image description: Mattachine’s discovery of the J. Edgar Hoover “Sex Deviate” memo.


Leave it to the German language’s ridiculously long compounds to provide a single word for the mission of the Mattachine Society of Washington:  “Vergangenheitsbewaltigung.” The eight syllables mean “the struggle to come to terms with the past.” If you do not speak German, forget pronouncing it. Just know: history is no recitation of facts; it is a struggle with the past. It is that sense of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung that the Mattachine Society brings to LGBTQ political history. We call it “archive activism” to uncover, struggle with, and leverage the terrible erasure of LGBTQ political history—to make social change. We, along with our pro-bono legal counsel the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, aggressively use Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, litigation under FOIA and old-fashioned digging through private and public archives to obtain more information, the “evidentiary history” of ignorance, bad science and pure government animus in the LGBT historical past.  Upon discovering J. Edgar Hoover’s “Sex Deviate” memo instructing his FBI agents nationwide to ferret out homosexuals from government, we accomplished this mission.