LGBTQ collection (Civil Rights Heritage Center)

Finding aid created by Civil Rights Heritage Center

Creator: Lawson, Herman D.
Creator: Pittman, Catherine M.
Title: LGBTQ collection (Civil Rights Heritage Center)
Collection No.: CRHC.LGBTQ
Dates: 1940-2017

Quantity: 5 cubic feet

Quantity: Four standard-size records cases, plus digital files.

Abstract: The Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center LGBTQ Collection contains materials relating to the experience of people in and around South Bend, Indiana, who describe their sexual and/or gender identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer, as well as people who consider themselves allies to the LGBTQ community. South Bend and neighboring cities in north central Indiana and south central Michigan, like so many cities in the United States during the second half of the 20th century and first quarter of the 21st, has experienced a radical transformation in attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. For much of the 20th century, South Bend's LGBTQ community was closed and closeted. With a stronger Catholic and Christian culture than other cities (as evidenced in places like the predominately Catholic University of Notre Dame as well as significant Polish and Eastern European immigration), South Bend had been described as a less welcoming place than larger cities with higher percentages of "out" LGBTQ people and stronger gay cultures, such as San Francisco or New York City. Without the promise of acceptance by their families or protections against discrimination in their workplaces, people often did not identify as LGBTQ publicly. Many felt they could publicly identify only within the few gay-friendly public spaces, such as the Sea Horse Bar and Cabaret. Like much of the United States, South Bend underwent significant changes in the first quarter of the 21st century through the efforts of countless "out" individuals and straight allies. By 2012, those efforts helped make South Bend one of the few cities in Indiana to add LGBT protections to its human rights ordinance. In 2015, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg publicly came out as well, becoming the highest ranking government official in Indiana to do so. The IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center LGBTQ collection — the first of its kind in the city — helps all people understand and reflect upon the major advancements in LGBTQ acceptance over the last fifty years, and how this one Midwest city moved from a place where many people felt they needed to hide their identities into a more welcoming and more open community.
Language: English .
Repository: Indiana University South Bend Archives and Special Collections
Schurz Library
1700 Mishawaka Ave.
PO Box 7111
South Bend, IN 46634
Business Number: 574-520-4392

Biographical / Historical

Donors to this collection include:

Herman Lawson

Lawson was born and raised in southwest Michigan. His mother, Paulene, contracted polio at a young age. She ran a small ceramics business; her son began working alongside her at the business as he became an adult. Items donated by Lawson tell the story of a gay man living in the small, southwest Michigan city of Niles from the 1970s through the 1990s. In an era before the internet, these items show how one gay man found connection and companionship in the absence of a strong local gay community.

Lawson's donation is organized alphabetically by subject. Please note that some materials contain content that could be considered explicit such as nude images.

Catherine Pittman

Dr. Pittman was one of the leaders of South Bend Equality, an organization dedicated to expanding the city of South Bend's human rights ordinance to include LGBTQ protections. This process began in 2003, and resulted in three attempts to get a bill passed through the South Bend Common Council. The first effort in 2006 failed to pass, though Mayor Stephen Leucke did pass an Executive Order in 2009 that offered protections to LGBTQ city employees.

The next effort in 2010 resulted in a bill limited to discrimination in employment only, and with spaces carved to exclude small businesses and religious organizations from lawsuits. This was not the stated goal of South Bend Equality who, although they did work to pass the bill, were not surprised nor unhappy when it failed to pass.

The election of Mayor Pete Buttigieg in 2011 led to a third effort that passed the Common Council in 2012, thus leading to the dissolution of South Bend Equality.

Scope and Contents

Having been compiled from so many donors, each with their own unique perspective and role in the history of South Bend's LGBTQ community, the contents of this collection are vast and varied.

Prominent types of content include handwritten correspondence, emails, newsletters, event flyers, minutes and other official records of South Bend Equality, and various ephemera from area gay bars such as Truman's and The Seahorse gay bar, including photographs of employees and drag performers.

In addition to the physical materials, the collection also contains some born digital files. Those files are maintained on cloud storage through Indiana University, with additional backup locations.


Materials are arranged by donor. In an effort to maintain original order, each donor's original arrangement scheme has been maintained as much as possible for the materials that they donated. Therefore, arrangement of each sub-group of donated materials varies based on how the original donor organized them.


Conditions Governing Access:

This collection is open for research. Advance notice is required. Some materials are restricted. For more information, contact the Indiana University South Bend Archivist.

Conditions Governing Use:

For more information about the copyright status of materials in this collection, please contact the IU South Bend Archivist. The IU South Bend Archives respects the intellectual property rights of others and does not claim copyright for non-university records, materials in the public domain, or materials for which we do not hold a Deed of Gift. Responsibility for the determination of the copyright status of these materials rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Researchers are responsible for securing permission from copyright owners and any other rights holders for any reuse of these materials that extends beyond fair use or other statutory limitations. Digital reproductions of archival materials from the IU South Bend Archives are made available for noncommercial educational and research purposes only. If you are the copyright holder for any of the digitized material and have questions about its inclusion on our site, please contact the Indiana University South Bend Archivist.

Related Materials

The Civil Rights Heritage Center Oral History collection contains recordings of oral history interviews with several members and active allies of the local LGBTQ community. For more information about accessing these oral history recordings, please contact the IU South Bend Archives.

Related materials may be found in the Civil Rights Heritage Center institutional records .

Indexed Terms

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Item], LGBTQ collection, Civil Rights Heritage Center Collections, Indiana University South Bend Archives.