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Central Coast Queer Archive Project to hold video premiere and public forum at SLO Museum of Art

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David Weisman/Central Coast Queer Archive Project
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Carroll Leslie, owner of Volumes of Pleasure Bookstore in Los Osos, is interviewed on camera.

The Central Coast Queer Archive Project, which gathers stories of LGBTQ+ people on the Central Coast and presents them to the public, will hold a video premiere and public forum this Sunday at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

Students and youth interview senior members of the queer community as part of an oral history collection. The goal of the project, which was funded in part by a California Humanities “Quick Grant,” is to create a portrait of what it’s like to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community on the Central Coast.

“It’s really important that we collect these primary sources in a variety of fields before, you know, people who are older who witnessed these important times and events in our history before they’re gone," Elias Simons told KCBX News.

Simons one of the youth participants for the project. He said interviewing LGBTQ+ community members taught him a lot about the little-known queer history of this area.

“So what really stuck out to me through all of the interviews was just being able to learn about all of the different queer spaces that exist or had existed in the Central Coast. Because for me, especially living in a pretty small, sleepy town like Los Osos, when I was younger I felt that there weren’t really any other gay people to relate to in Los Osos," Simons said.

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David Weisman/Central Coast Queer Archive Project
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Elias Simons interviews Doug Heumann, president of the Board of the Gala Pride and Diversity Center in San Luis Obispo.

Mary Waters is another student participant.

“I already had a previously existing interest in queer history. So when I was told through friends that there would be kind of an informational session being held about Queer History Archive Project, I immediately jumped on it and I got involved that way," Waters said.

Waters archived hundreds of photographs for the project. She also got to interview some queer community members herself, and said it was eye-opening.

“So, I really loved interviewing both of the women that I interviewed, and they have both such unique and interesting stories. I absolutely loved both of them. And I feel like it was a little bit surprising, just the wide array of experiences that you can have as a queer person on the Central Coast. And the way that these kinds of pathways to understanding our identities and the different kinds of experiences that we have — even in just such a small little region — really stuck out to me as very interesting," Waters said.

Another participant, Dylan Baker, said participating in this project was interesting to him because he feels San Luis Obispo County’s queer history isn’t always very visible.

“SLO is a smaller town. You don’t see as much stuff here. I mean, it’s beautiful, best weather you can probably find almost anywhere, but you don’t see a lot of LGBTQ stuff here. A lot of it is more toned down, or nonexistent. And I wanted to learn why that was the case, and I’ve been able to learn a lot more about this county’s history," Baker said.

Baker said he’s grateful the Central Coast Queer Archive project is happening, so that the history is uncovered and available to people.

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David Weisman/Central Coast Queer Archive Project
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Carroll Leslie, owner of Volumes of Pleasure Bookstore in Los Osos, is interviewed for the Queer Archive Project.

“This is a lower-population, smaller town, and you don’t see a lot of smaller towns focusing on LGBTQ history. I’ve lived in enough smaller places and bigger ones to notice that. I’m really glad it got started, I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad all the stuff is being documented so people can see it in the future and see it right now," Baker said.

“Celebrating Our LGBTQI+ Elders: Stories from the Central Coast'' will be held on Sunday, December 12 from 3-5 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. Admission is free and a Q&A will follow the presentation. Organizers say COVID protocols will be followed and seating is limited.

Afterward, there will be an informal dinner gathering at Taco Temple in San Luis Obispo from 6-8 p.m.

Taco Temple used to be a Howard Johnson’s restaurant which served as an unofficial queer meetup spot on certain nights of the month, and organizers say meeting there will be a “re-queering” of the space.

More information is available at sloqueerarchive.org.

Corrected: December 10, 2021 at 11:03 AM PST
An earlier version of this story identified Coalesce Bookstore as being in Los Osos, when it is actually in Morro Bay. The bookstore that provides a queer-friendly space in Los Osos is called Volumes of Pleasure.
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Benjamin Purper came to KCBX in May of 2021 from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.