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Pins, Posters, and Pumps-Ephemeral Bits of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ History

June 1, 2021

Ephemera is defined as that which is fleeting, short-lived, of no lasting importance. Au contraire! The LGBTQ+ collections held by UTSA Special Collections contain a wealth of queer ephemera-those seemingly insignificant “bits and bobs” of history that held a special place in the lives of the people who hung on to them. The tiny rhinestone pumps shown here once cradled the feet of San Antonio legend Lollie Johnson-successful business entrepreneur, beloved by the queer community.

Lollie wore her dainty heels to an awards ceremony honoring her countless contributions to the community she cared for so deeply. Ephemeral items in the Lollie Johnson papers offer the researcher an opportunity to see tangible remnants of San Antonio’s LGBTQ past. In addition to the pumps and panel, the collection contains several textiles including t-shirts from Lollie’s bars.

Noo Zoo Too faux stained glass panel, 1980s; Lollie Johnson, undated

Like Lollie Johnson, Martha Prentiss was a prominent activist in San Antonio’s lesbian and gay community. The Martha Prentiss papers hold some small, but powerful treasures that capture snippets of local queer women’s culture and the fight for gay rights. Pins, buttons, and badges (so called by the Brits) were and continue to be popular collectibles in private collections. Fortunately, when these collections are preserved in archives, we all benefit from the dedication of the collector.

If there was a single person who embraced ephemeral material at a whole other level, it was our dear, departed friend and donor, Gene Elder. There was not a single piece of ephemera that Gene did not latch onto and stash away in the cavernous Happy Foundation GLBT Archives. Gene’s very mode of transport was held together by ephemeral pieces and parts, truly a representation of his devotion to collecting all things artsy and queer. The hundreds of pages of his journals are plastered with fleeting bits that captured Gene’s eye and imagination.

Gene Elder in his Mud mobile, undated, photographer unknown
The Mud mobile was adorned with flip flops and swim noodles in addition to many other repurposed items that most folks would toss in the dumpster after their usefulness was exhausted.

I must admit that I too have ephemeral reminders my personal history and that of my community. Rainbow flags and rainbow tags hang by my desk in my home office. Small things I know, but trinkets that remind me of the path I forged as I came out later in life and symbols that link me to a community of which I am a part. My research files are sprinkled with small remnants of San Antonio’s queer history–an empty matchbook from the San Antonio County–a popular gay disco in the 70s–is snuggled in amongst photos and documents. My favorite piece of ephemera is a poster from the 2nd annual Gay Pride celebration in 1999 which I plucked off the women’s bathroom wall in one of the clubs on the strip (naughty I know but truly in the spirit of historic preservation). This special bit of memorabilia conjures up nostalgic moments of a wonderful evening spent in the company of good friends and delightful drag divas.

One day my papers will live in the archives and hopefully, my ephemeral odds and ends will be enjoyed by those who come upon them.

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