A Sexual Minorities Archives Rescue Mission: The Pride & Joy Wall Panels

By Samuel Edwards, SMA Summer 2017 Intern

On June 15th, the Sexual Minorities Archives received a call from Michelle Rosenfield about the wood panels from Pride & Joy being thrown out behind 20 Crafts Avenue in Northampton, Massachusetts. By chance, Michelle Rosenfield happened to walk her dog by this location every day, and she was thankfully able to recognize what these panels were; they were the wood paneling from the Pride & Joy store in Northampton and they were full of signatures, cartoons, and graffiti from LGBTQ+ people who visited the store.

Pride & Joy was an LGBTQ+ book store founded in 1991 by Martha Nelson (as Pride’s) at 20 Crafts Avenue. Pride & Joy sold LGBT merchandise, books, music, clothing, and anything you could think of related to our community. The store served as a community gathering place for LGBTQ+ events and information, and was beloved in Northampton. Throughout its existence, it changed owners from Beth & Karen Bellavance-Grace, to Mark Carmien, to Melissa Borchardt, Kelly Waggoner, and Jeff Wheelock. The store’s final owners were Jennifer Harlan and Joy Rain, who moved it to its final location in Thornes Marketplace, 150 Main St., where it unfortunately closed in 2013.

When LGBTQ+ artists, activists, writers, musicians, and public figures came to visit Pride & Joy, they would leave their signature or a doodle on the wall panels. Some of the folks who signed these were Leslie Feinberg, Alison Bechdel, Diane DiMassa, Joan Nestle, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Warren Blumenfeld, Pamela Means, Chris Williamson, and many others. These panels are not just a former piece of the building; they are historical art.

Recognizing the importance of this to both our local and national LGBTQ+ communities, Ben Power posted on the Queer Exchange: Western Mass Facebook group the day that Michelle Rosenfield contacted him, so that he could find a way to transport these panels to the Sexual Minorities Archives.

All the panels minus the smaller panel with Joan Nestle’s signature. Photo credit Kate Walker.

By the time I got involved, wheels were already in motion. Almost the entire LGBTQ+ community of Western Massachusetts (or at least, those on Queer Exchange – which, let’s face it, is basically everyone) were already invested in the safety of these panels. On that very morning (June 16th), I had already seen Ben organizing on the Sexual Minorities Archives Facebook page to get a truck; I even received a text message from my mom asking about it (hi mom!). So, when Ben sat me down as I entered the Sexual Minorities Archives to start my internship work for the day and said, “We’re going on a rescue mission,” I knew exactly what he was referring to.

Full view of one of the panels including a doodle from Alison Bechdel and signatures from Tammy Baldwin, Ellen Orleans, and others. Photo credit Kate Walker.
Close-up of one of the panels with signatures including Annie Sprinkles, Big Daddy Hurley, Philip Robinson, and others. Photo credit Kate Walker.

We got into Ben’s car and headed to Dawn Lynch’s home, where the truck that she lent to us for this expedition was parked. We drove to Northampton and picked up the panels (– two of them large: 8 ft. by 4 ft. and the other four about half that size) from Kate Walker’s porch, where they were being kept safe from the elements until they could return to their new home at the Sexual Minorities Archives. We loaded them into the truck without fuss, and headed back towards Holyoke.

While we were on the road, it was beginning to rain, and Ben stopped for a moment at a nearby hotel to adjust the tarp covering the panels, which kept almost flying off. After he did, he got back into the truck and tried to get it to start… tried again… tried once more… Nope.

Around this time, I was starting to panic, as I could see the rain was coming down harder and the forecast had said we would have a downpour later in the day. Thinking of losing these important parts of LGBTQ+ history after all the hard work undertaken by so many to keep them safe made me feel ill. Ben remained as calm as you possibly could in this situation, and called Dawn Lynch.

Two panels put together with several signatures such as Joan Nestle, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslea Newman and many others.

Luckily, Dawn Lynch’s mechanic came speedily to our rescue and our moment of panic was short-lived. He got the truck running again almost immediately, and I spent the rest of the car ride back to the Archives pleading with the universe that we would be able to get these panels there without any more foibles.

Thankfully for all of us, that was what happened. Ben and I loaded them into the garage where they now reside, waiting for restoration work to be done on them by volunteers so that they can be fully displayed in the art gallery of the Sexual Minorities Archives. Ben and I both felt a collective weight lifted from our shoulders to see these panels at the Sexual Minorities Archives, no longer in the back of a truck or in the trash where they would have been destroyed.

Panel with several signatures, including Leslie Feinberg whose personal library now] resides in the Sylvia Rivera Room at the Sexual Minorities Archives. Photo credit Kate Walker.

The saga of these panels made me think of something I am frequently reminded of when doing LGBTQ+ historical work; that our history and our experiences are ignored, devalued, and thrown in the trash all too often. LGBTQ+ people’s letters, books, fliers, and anything else that is important for us are all too often discarded with a shrug, or in some cases even with malice. However, this story also shows how our community will gather together to keep our knowledge and history from being destroyed. Ben and I could not have rescued these panels without the help of Michelle Rosenfield, Dawn Lynch, Kate Walker, and all those within our community who offered their time, energy and resources to ensure the safety of these important objects from our history.

Samuel Edwards, author
SMA Summer 2017 Intern