As the ONE Archives Foundation celebrates its 70th anniversary in November, making it the oldest continuously operating LGBTQ organization in the United States, its new Executive Director is stepping into the role and introducing himself to the local community. Tony Valenzuela is helping the Los Angeles-based LGBTQ archive group rebuild after being impacted by the COVID pandemic and expanding the stories it tells to be more diverse.
The health crisis forced him to close his gallery space in the city of West Hollywood, although he now opens up to the public when he mounts an exhibition or organizes an event. And although its platinum anniversary is next month, the nonprofit plans to hold most of its celebratory events in 2023.
“Part of my vision is to increase our regional reach in this community and cultivate this organization as one that is deeply engaged with our many communities. This will be further reflected in our programming,” said Valenzuela, who expects announce birthday plans earlier. Next year. “I think the ONE Archives Foundation is the authority on LGBTQ history, certainly in Los Angeles, and I want to continue to cultivate that.”
Valenzuela is only the second person to serve as the foundation’s executive director, as the first, Jennifer C. Gregg, was hired in 2016. She officially stepped down on Sept. 7, several weeks after Valenzuela began working for the foundation. nonprofit on August 16.
Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter in early October, at the start of LGBTQ history month, Valenzuela said he saw the foundation as a counterbalance to the decision to erase LGBTQ history from school textbooks and LGBTQ books from schools. public libraries. He was “happy” to see that the need to educate young Americans about the country’s LGBTQ history was integral to the plot of the gay romantic comedy “Bros.”
“There’s this quote of ‘a people without a history is a people without a future.’ I believe the ONE Archive Foundation is an organization that preserves and educates about our rich history so that we can ensure a just and safe future for LGBTQ people,” said Valenzuela, 64, a gay man who has made his home in West Hollywood since 1998.
He wants to ensure that LGBTQ history takes into account people of color and the diverse communities that make up the broader LGBTQ community. It’s about expanding the storytelling, Valenzuela explained, rather than erasing certain groups of LGBTQ people.
“I have a vision for this organization, and I think the vision that I have is certainly aligned with what this organization is already doing to expand the narrative, so working in diverse communities and telling stories that haven’t yet been told,” he said. . “This is not to erase or ignore or even stop talking about the contributions of queer and white gay men in the history of HIV/AIDS activism. , is to expand the narrative.”
Valenzuela is the second gay Latino in recent months to be the first hired to lead one of the state’s LGBTQ archive groups. As reported by the BAR earlier this monththe GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco hired Roberto Ordeñana as its new executive director, making him the first Latino and second person of color to hold the position.
“I am the first Latino executive director and our chairman of the board is the first African American in this position,” Valenzuela said. “These are important milestones, certainly for me and for many others in terms of representation and leadership positions.”
Valenzuela said he looks forward to getting to know Ordeñana and his counterparts from the various LGBTQ archive groups across California. The organizations have an informal network among themselves and have banded together in recent years to lobby for state funding and other forms of support.
“I just started here, it’s on my agenda to do so,” Valenzuela said.
Unlike San Francisco, where plans are underway to build a large, stand-alone LGBTQ museum and archives, no such project is being discussed in Los Angeles, Valenzuela said. Although he has not ruled out that it will become a priority in the future.
“Who knows, maybe one day? It’s the kind of effort that takes a lot of research to see if we’re capable of raising that kind of money,” he said. “It’s not on the table right now. But who knows in the future, there would definitely be room in a city the size of Los Angeles for it.”
The foundation has its gallery in West Hollywood where it can mount exhibitions and organize events. Its next public lineup is slated for December, and it plans to continue hosting hybrid in-person and online events amid the ongoing COVID pandemic.
The nonprofit organization operates with an annual budget of between $800,000 and over $1 million. It has run deficits in recent years, according to its tax returns compiled by ProPublica, with a 2020 operating budget of $749,831 but a lower net income of $148,964. In 2019, his expenses were reported at $1,164,448, resulting in a $114,955 shortfall in his net income.
Gregg’s salary was $142,000 according to the foundation’s 2019 990 tax return, while Valenzuela earns $150,000. He oversees a full-time staff of three and is in the process of hiring someone to manage the foundation’s education initiatives.
The nonprofit dates back to November 1952, when members of the first gay rights group, the Mattachine Society, incorporated that month as ONE Inc. to publish a magazine. The first issue of ONE magazine was released in January 1953 and is considered the first nationally distributed LGBT magazine.
In 1956, magazine contributors Jim Kepner and activist W. Dorr Legg, along with Thomas M. Merritt, Ph.D., formed its educational arm, the ONE Institute. While the magazine ceased publication in 1967, the institute continued to be active and became known for granting advanced degrees in “homophile studies”.
Kepner, meanwhile, had amassed a large collection of LGBTQ materials which he dubbed the Western Gay Archives. It would be displayed in a Hollywood storefront and later renamed the International Gay & Lesbian Archives.
By the mid-1990s, the archive had merged with the ONE Institute, then moved to the University of Southern California campus in 2000. It would be renamed again, this time as ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, and would eventually become an official part of the USC Library System in October 2010.
“Part of my job as executive director is to amplify the archive’s collection,” Valenzuela said. “It’s the largest collection of LGBTQ material in the world.”
The USC-based foundation and archives “are official partners,” he explained. “We operate as a community-oriented non-profit organization that provides LGBTQ history programs while amplifying the archives.”
The two entities do joint programming together, Valenzuela noted, while one of the foundation’s main priorities is its educational initiatives. She’s a major driver in implementing California’s FAIR ACT, which mandates the teaching of LGBT subjects and topics in public schools across the state, and hosts webinars for educators on how to teach. such lessons.
“We also do LGBTQ lesson plans, which we work with educators to develop,” Valenzuela noted.
Each school semester, the foundation also trains eight young ambassadors of queer history. Participants receive a stipend and will complete field trips to LGBTQ historic sites while conducting research in the USC archives.
“We are mentoring a number of high school students to act as queer story ambassadors in their schools and communities,” Valenzuela said.
Since 2009, Valenzuela has been working in the field of arts and culture; he is also two-thirds into writing a memoir. Beginning in 2009, he served as executive director of Lambda Literary, which supports and promotes LGBTQ writers.
Between 2018 and 2020, he led the Foundation for The AIDS Monument and helped oversee its efforts to build a memorial to those lost to the disease in West Hollywood Park. The public outdoor space is in the LGBTQ enclave that is its own city in Los Angeles County and is undergoing a $100 million renovation. Valenzuela oversaw the successful fundraising campaign to raise the $5 million needed for its construction, with its inauguration slated to take place in 2024.
“I feel privileged to do this work. Much of the work done in our communities is direct service, which is essential and critical, or civil rights advocacy work that has to do with lobbying and elections,” Valenzuela said. “The space for arts and culture, certainly in the queer community, is smaller but the kind of work that connects deeply with people because they see their stories reflected in that work.”
To learn more about the ONE Archives Foundation, visit its website.
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