Reading PRIDE Celebration (RPC) and the Berks History Center (BHC) are proud to announce a new digital storytelling and community collections project called “The Rainbow Letters: A Living History of the LGBTQA+ Community of Greater Reading.” The project will be formally announced on Sunday, July 19th during the RPC’s annual Reading PRIDE event, which will stream digitally from 12pm-3pm. The goal of the project is to collect and preserve the history of the LGBTQA+ Community in Reading and Berks County.
Starting with a digital survey, RPC is asking LGBTQA+ community members to share their stories. The digital survey serves as a preliminary contact and helps participants to think critically about their memories and experiences as a member of the LGBTQA+ community in Reading and Berks County.
In addition to collecting personal experiences, the project aims to document the significant locations, bars, social gatherings, events, groups, and organizations of the LGBTQA+ community in Greater Reading. For example, some folks may remember XYZ picnics or the Rainbow Home of Berks County.
While the BHC and RPC can’t preserve everything, the project will include personal accounts, observations, photos, images, news articles, audio and/or video files. Artifacts, diaries, journals, documentaries, and other tangible objects related to detailed histories will also be accepted as space permits. The collection is expected to grow as RPC is currently seeking financial support for the project. Ultimately the stories collected by RPC will be curated into a digital collection on the BHC website and preserved in the BHC’s collections for generations to come.
The “Rainbow Letters” project came to fruition following a collaborative event at the BHC last year. In 2019, the BHC partnered with RPC to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The event was successful and led to further conversations about the pertinent histories of the LGBTQA+ community in Reading and Berks County.
“We realized that if we did not start collecting now, our history could be lost,” says Ben Renkus, President Emeritus of RPC. “The LGBTQA+ community in Reading and Berks goes back much farther than Stonewall, and that was 50 years ago! Our stories matter and we want to be sure our legacy in Berks County does not go unwritten. We are thankful to the Berks History Center for helping us to collect and preserve our community’s history.”
“The project not only serves the LGBTQA+ community but all of Berks County and beyond, says Alexis Campbell, Associate Director at BHC. “As the stewards of our community’s history, it is our mission to ensure that future generations can know and understand the diverse experiences and stories of our whole community, especially those that are often left out. The Rainbow Letters project helps us to achieve that goal and we are thankful to Reading Pride Celebration’s partnership in helping to preserve and share the history of our county.”
To participate in the project and share your history, please visit readingpridecelebration.org to fill out the preliminary survey form. Once participants fill out the form, RPC will follow up to collect a more comprehensive history.
A selection of material submitted may be shared through the RPC and BHC media accounts and submitted stories will be preserved in the BHC digital collections for future generations.