Founded in 1997, the GALA Queer Archive is a catalyst for the production, preservation and dissemination of information about the history, culture and contemporary experiences of LGBTI people in Africa. It started as a project of the South African History Archive Trust (SAHA), founded in the 1980s as increasing state censorship threatened to obscure the struggle against human rights violations and the oppressive political regime of apartheid. The organisation raises awareness about the lives and experiences of LGBTI people in South Africa and Africa more broadly, preserves and nurtures LGBTI identities, strengthens research in promoting social equality, and promotes inclusive education and youth development.
Today, GALA is the custodian of over 200 organisational and personal archives dating back to the 1940s. They safely store historical documents and objects and ensure that these materials are accessible to the public. GALA also actively collects and adds to the archive and has started new collections recording contemporary experiences. GALA incorporates the archive into educational programming aimed at broadening perspectives around gender and sexual diversity. Drawing on the archives, they develop resources, offer internship and training programmes for queer youth, and collaborate with civil society organisations on programmes that focus on cross-cutting issues.
In addition to its archival programme, GALA supports research, publishes, operates a community library, facilitates educational workshops and organises exhibitions. GALA publishes under MaThoko’s Books, named after a woman who ran an LGBTI-inclusive tavern in KwaThema, a black township outside Johannesburg in the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when homosexuality was illegal in South Africa. MaThoko’s Books provides a rare publishing outlet for LGBTI writing and scholarly works on LGBTI-related themes in Africa. Recent publications include: Meanwhile… Graphic short stories about everyday queer life in Southern and East Africa which features contributions by 18 LGBTI youth from Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as artists, academics and journalists, and Queer Africa 2: New Stories, a collection of 26 stories by writers from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda and the USA. Their first fiction title, Queer Africa, remains the only book produced in Africa to receive a Lambda Literary Award (in the anthology category).
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