In addition to collecting and improving access to the history of lesbian and bisexual women, the Lesbian Archive of Amsterdam (LAA) wanted to promote and manifest lesbian culture. With monthly topic-based get-togethers, exhibitions and city walks, the employees breathed new life into the heritage material that was collected. Eef Keijzer and Jeannette Nijboer, for years active as volunteers, share some of their memories:
“Didn’t Coco Chanel also have ‘something’ with women? In 1986, I was convinced of this. Armed with my inseparable Chanel no. 19, I showed up at the Lesbian Archive of Amsterdam immediately after graduating. Chanel and I were accepted and welcomed openly to the basement of the stately canal-side house.
My motivations were diffuse, but one thing was sure: I wanted to mean something to the lesbian heritage, of which, after all, I was a part of. However, I did find that the word archive was a bit misplaced, although collecting archives was one of the core activities.
Four years earlier, the LAA was established in a festive occasion and already then, I found the collection in that dark, somewhat mysterious place imposing. What was also imposing was that you had to call to ask for the address. Nevertheless, the monthly get-togethers were a great success.
And sometimes we caused quite a stir. Such as that time we organized a get-together with an exhibition about women’s football. The phone didn’t stop ringing. The Parool newspaper asked for the address but unfortunately, they could only send a male reporter—sports, right?—and of course he was not allowed in! A riot within a riot! Worried mothers from Buitenveldert heard the news and threatened to remove their daughters from the local football club. We had these girls angry, because they just wanted to play football. That obviously strengthened our idea that we were doing very good work and that we had to continue doing so for these brave girls. By the time the Royal Dutch Football Association (women’s department of the KNVB) began meddling, we knew we had made our point.
I stayed with the archive for about ten years. It is an open door, but I learned a lot there. I also had a lot of fun and worked hard. It is overly clear to me that the Lesbian Archive of Amsterdam, nowadays IHLIA, was indispensable: to our society, to our historic awareness, and to our remembrance.
In addition, the archive introduced me to a very dear friend of mine. She came in 1992, when the LAA was ten years old. She also smelled very nice, and still does, and has made a substantial contribution to professionalizing the ‘collective’.”
“Yes, I smell mostly of Manifesto perfume by Rosselini (luckily, everyone has a different taste). When I joined LAA in 1992, I thought that political idealism and activism could also be dealt with in a business-like manner. By improving the service and promotion, more people could get to know our unique collection. For instance, we made a lesbian video annual overview, a traveling poster exhibition, we automated our collection using paid employees, we were often guests on MVS radio and TV and we organized nice gatherings: lingerie parties that were massively attended, theme nights about East Europe and Chile or the playful nights about lesbian norms and values in the COC.
We refined our newsletter Out the Closet with informative articles and had it sold through the Xantippe and Vrolijk bookshops. We also renewed our collaboration with the lesbian archives in Nijmegen and Leeuwarden and with Homodok and the IIAV. In addition, we also carried out working visits to other archives in Amsterdam. All under the pretext of wanting to come out of the closet professionally.
Eef with her first lesbian walk through Amsterdam inspired me to come up with the idea of using information and visual material from the LAA for a publication about walks, and boat and bicycle trips along the history of lesbian Amsterdam. The book was called On the Lesbian Tour in Amsterdam. We reached new audiences with the walks that we organized, while carrying that book.
My direct involvement in the LAA ended after five years, simultaneously with a smashing anniversary party called LAA 15 years on the 15th of November 1997 in the COC. Hundreds of women partied with performances by Frédérique Spigt and Groove the Princess. The LAA caused quite a stir. We raised lots champagne glasses to toast the LAA’s 15th anniversary.
After that, it became inevitable: the LAA could not manage on its own and merged with Homodok and the Anna Blaman House in Leeuwarden. That has made LAA part of the professional IHLIA. It’s only a pity there are no longer any ‘juicy’ gatherings.”