Shane Cohen-Mungan in front of a sunset.

CCPA Summer Series 2022: William Way LGBT Community Center

By Shane Cohen-Mungan ’24

Funding Source: CCPA’s Liberal Arts in the Workplace Grant

My name is Shane Cohen-Mungan (they/them), and I’m a rising junior majoring in English. This summer I worked in my hometown, Philadelphia, as an intern for the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center. The Archives is a collection of personal papers, organizational records, publications, audiovisual material, and ephemera documenting the history of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. In addition to collecting and providing access, the institution also works to describe and interpret the materials. My job was to conduct research on LGBTQ+ activism in Philadelphia and create guides for future researchers based on my findings.

I was inspired to intern at William Way by my experience in HIST299: “Archive Theory and Practice,” taught by Professor Andrew Friedman. Each student in the course chose a collection from one of Philadelphia’s many archives to research for the semester. As we worked with our collection, we read and discussed a different theoretical approach to archives each week. The course prepared me to conduct archival work with a critical approach. During our week on queer archives, I decided to reach out to the William Way Center about an internship.

I contacted the Archives about an internship then met with director John Anderies to plan a project that would benefit the Center and incorporate left-wing history. We decided my job would be to research independent publications from 1960s and 70s Philadelphia, focusing on their coverage of and connections to LGBTQ+ community, culture, and politics.

I started my internship by reading secondary literature on the “underground press” and Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community. I familiarized myself with the history and identified publication titles to track down. Looking at the holdings of the Kislak Center (University of Pennsylvania) and the Special Collections Research Center (Temple University), I discovered that the biggest publications of the Philadelphia underground were Distant Drummer (1967-1979), Philadelphia Free Press (1968-1974), and Plain Dealer (1970). I went to the archives every day to research the newspapers, looking for LGBTQ+ content.

I read through all twenty-four issues of Plain Dealer and created a research guide on the newspaper to help future researchers. The guide consists of a description of the publication, a list of each issue’s date and of each collective member, and a description of each LGBTQ+ article. Then I went through the same process for Philadelphia Free Press and Distant Drummer, both of which ran for much longer than Plain Dealer.

At the end of each week, I met with the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives Director, John Anderies, to discuss my findings. Talking with a mentor knowledgeable of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ history helped me to identify which discoveries were notable, to know which questions to pursue, and to deepen my knowledge. It was empowering to read and write about the ways in which various Philadelphia LGBTQ+ organizations, including Gay Liberation Front, Homophile Action League, and Gay Activist Alliance, envisioned and struggled for queer liberation. I hope to continue to build on my project and to use the research I’ve done so far for future works. I had a blast learning about my native city’s independent publications, organizations’ actions, and people’s visions of liberation. I look forward to more people connecting with the period of LGBTQ+ Philadelphia history when my work appears on William Way’s website. I couldn’t have wished for a better internship experience.

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