When the University of Rochester’s Gay Liberation Front launched the Empty Closet in 1971, they knew that distributing a newspaper advocating “the freedom to love” same-sex partners was a radical act. At the time, being openly gay in New York State could cost an individual his or her livelihood, housing, safety, even freedom.
What the student group could not have known is that their four-page, hand-typed ditto would become one the longest continually distributed gay newspapers in the United States and an important primary source about one the country’s major social movements.
To preserve and share that record, the University has launched an online and searchable archive of the Empty Closet, with all 438 issues from January 1971 to April 2011. Now published by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, the newspaper chronicles the gay rights movement, from the first gay pride marches in New York City in the early 1970s to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s to the recent campaign for gay marriage and full civil rights.
New issues of the Empty Closet will be added to the University’s online archive about a year after they appear in print. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has been collecting, preserving, and making available paper copies of the Empty Closet since it began. The paper was preserved on microfilm through a grant from the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials. The digitization of the microfilm was paid for by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley.
Direct to the Empty Closet Digital Archive