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But Botkin-Levy knew that a handful of stories wasn’t enough to adequately tell the history of LGBTQ+ communities in the East Bay, and she decided to expand on the project.
Last November, she launched another call-out, this time with funding from the city of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Grant Program, which allowed her to pay participants a stipend and hire queer youth as production assistants. She also enlisted the help of Joe Hawkins, executive director of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, and Oakland activist Kin Folkz of the Queer Healing Arts Center.
The result is a gorgeous collection of illustrations and audio stories titled Mapping Queer Oakland, featuring the voices of 10 LGBTQ+ elders—from all walks of life and different neighborhoods in North, East, and deep East Oakland—telling tales about a city that younger Oakland residents never had a chance to experience.
“Because everything is so expensive in Oakland, the story of gentrification impacts queer elders in a very particular kind of way,” said Botkin-Levy. “A lot of elders no longer necessarily live in Oakland but had spent many years here and have lots of stories and connections. So, [that] comes up as a piece of the story as well.”
Each participant was beautifully illustrated by artist Rami KD, and like the earlier project by Botkin-Levy, Mapping Queer Oakland includes audio clips, a written transcript, and a map pinpointing where each elder lived with fascinating stories of a long-gone and sometimes forgotten Oakland. The project also includes a limited-run printed zine, with a digital version also available on the project website.
The collection includes detailed vignettes of life as experienced by Oakland residents. Like Randy Jordan and Mali (Ernest Andrews) who met in 1983, and began dating when they reconnected at Cable’s Reef, a gay bar in Oakland where The Legionnaire Saloon is now, which closed in 2007; and Janet Halfin, who was born at Highland Hospital in 1956 and was the first “male-presenting person in modern dance at Oakland High School.”
“There’s really this narrative of tying stories to place and to Oakland,” Botkin-Levy said, “and really connecting the narratives that people have in telling those stories.”
Inspired by the initial crop of stories, Botkin-Levy hopes to pursue more funding that will allow her to continue collective stories about this important but under-documented part of Oakland history.
“What’s so important for me is thinking about how hard folks over 60 fought for dignity, legal support, and recognition. All the things that their lives entail are so different than today,” she said. “And, really wanting to honor their experience and stories.”
Correction: outLoud was an audio storytelling program where Botkin-Levy was the facilitator of the intergenerational storytelling project, Also, the spelling of the name of her company is in all caps,