The Gender resource centre: Point G

The Gender Resource Centre of Lyon Municipal Library aims to amass an assortment of documents focussing on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Three main bodies of work are concerned: books already found in the various BmL departments and sites, new acquisitions and archives.

The aim here has been to accumulate knowledge and to reflect the words and experience of stigmatised people and communities. The BmL’s general catalogue is being inventoried in order to include the issue of gender and sexuality. It will soon be possible to search the catalogue online to find relevant documents. The fact that they are distributed in various departments testifies to the transversality of our subject. In parallel, new acquisitions will form a “Gender and sexuality” collection housed in the Civilisation room of the Part-Dieu library. With regard to the archives, they are currently being indexed and some sections can now be consulted. The aim is to grow the corpus by means of donations and deposits from individuals, associations and institutions so as to form and preserve a lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex etc. memory.

The inclusion of this centre in such a well-frequented public location stems from two necessities: that of reducing exclusion and that of inviting everyone to reflect on the personal and collective implications of our representations of gender and sexuality.

History of the centre

In 1992, collector Michel Chomarat deposited with Lyon Municipal Library a large collection of posters, prints, archives etc. - both old and modern. Although covering various areas, this collection contained a large amount of documentation on homosexuality.

In 2002, the first Assises de la Mémoire Gay [Meetings of Gay Memory] were held at the BmL, at the initiative of Michel Chomarat. These get-togethers, now for gays and lesbians, take place every year in spring in the Library and tackle more broadly so-called LGBT issues: lesbian, gay, bi, trans … The list of those who, for a variety of reasons, do not conform to current norms of gender or sexuality is getting longer: already a Q could be added for queer, and an I for intersex. In May 2005, the first international day against homophobia provided the opportunity to announce the municipal plan to create a gay and lesbian documentary resource centre. In 2006, the municipal council then voted for the financing of a new librarian post at the BmL, a post which was created in December of the same year. In the meantime, during winter 2005, the Follement gay [Madly gay] exhibition gave an initial insight into this suppressed heritage.

Archiving, the creation of a contemporary "Gender and sexuality" collection and public events are all part of the same dynamic aiming, as stressed by P. Bazin, Library director, to give “historic visibility to a whole continent of existences and comportments” (TOPO no. 74, Nov.-Dec. 2005) - existences simultaneously singled out by medicine, repressed by law and deleted from official history. In other words, the aim is to restore full citizenship to those who have been excluded and, in doing so, to broaden our perception of the social field: the issue is thus clearly one of development rather than withdrawal.

The approach with regard to "gender” marks a new decisive stage for the Resource Centre. It testifies to our will to marry concern for memory and attention to change, with diversity. In the same way that desire and affects cannot be reduced to their heterosexual expression, the gay or lesbian experience does not take into account the experience of bisexual, transgender (undergoing a transition - completed or not - between masculine and feminine) or intersex (biologically neither male nor female) people. The origins of discrimination are nonetheless the same in each case. Without losing sight of the identity references fought for so bitterly, we can also envisage the hybrid and the pansexual dear to queer thinking, and from which the contours of the heterosexual norm do not escape.

Assuming this dual challenge, on the one hand the vital necessity of memory and visibility, and on the other the reflection about the frontiers of identity, the BmL makes no claim to replace the social agents working individually and together in the field, whether in the media or underground. Social invention does not fit easily into the confined atmosphere of the storage silos. However, while the institution tends to become rigid, the public service guarantees representativeness and transmission. On the one hand, an infinite potential for experimentation at the risk of isolation and a precarious existence, and on the other the means for longevity and recognition at the risk of a new normative “official” history. These two spheres of activity are thus intractable and complementary. Their free and fruitful coexistence is healthy. Over and above its mission of conservation, Lyon Municipal Library, in particular via the Gender Resource Centre, is a particularly accessible space at the heart of an urban network of sociability: a common space, and thus a space of communication.