On an impromptu night out last summer, two friends and I descended upon the Stonewall Inn in New York’s West Village. As soon as we entered the bar, a drag queen named Enchilada ushered us upstairs to watch her performance. Enchilada put on quite the show: she sang, she danced, and she roasted some of us unsuspecting patrons. Everyone had a rollicking good time, and Enchilada even thanked us afterwards for laughing along with her jokes about my friend’s side ponytail and my insistence on wearing a backpack at all times.
Today’s inclusive Stonewall, where our group of two straight females and one gay male fit right in, is a far cry from the secretive, members-only bar of the past that would become the famous site of the first gay riots in history in 1969. The gay community has since rapidly emerged from the shadows and cultivated a very visible existence. Celebratory events like gay pride parades and Enchilada’s show, as well as the struggle for gay civil rights, have kept the modern gay community in view. While this heightened presence is welcome and necessary, it must be complimented by an understanding of the gay community’s typically unclear history. The website OutHistory.org strives to become a collaborative, user-driven resource on American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) history. OutHistory.org has struggled, however, to build a substantial base of non-academic contributors. For a comprehensive understanding of the traditionally marginalized gay community to exist, public history initiatives like OutHistory.org must succeed in capturing those historically hard to reach community voices.
The lack of a recorded history has repeatedly affected the gay community. In the book Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, author Lillian Faderman explains the difficulties the lesbian community encountered in publicly asserting and documenting its existence. In the 1950s, censorship was a constant threat that often halted written attempts at portraying homosexuality in a realistic and positive light.  For example, author Helen Hull decided against writing a novel based on real lesbian experiences to preserve her reputation. Additionally, the literature about lesbians that was published—lurid “pulp” novels—spread stereotypes and suspicion about lesbians.  Paranoia over lesbian infiltration of the military drove many lesbians to deny their sexual orientation, especially in written documents, and embrace a life of secrecy.  These missed opportunities for recording lesbian history and forced denials hampered understanding of the gay community.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, lesbians began to consciously form subcultures. Constructing identities was a taxing undertaking for a group of people with little recorded history to consult. Several class- and age-defined subcultures emerged and competed with each other for dominance.  These divisions, resulting from the scarcity of information on if and how women had historically lived as lesbians, prevented a unified front that could have aided in an earlier acceptance into society.
Fear still crippled some of the lesbian community even as the new millennium approached. When conducting research for Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Faderman encountered residual apprehension in older lesbians. She conducted 186 interviews and found that many of the older women were hesitant to even tell their stories anonymously, let alone come out. 
Twenty years have passed since Faderman published Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. Much has transpired in those two decades: the gay community worked relentlessly to debunk damaging myths about AIDS and has emerged as an increasingly organized and proud group. Today’s tolerant society creates a safe environment for gay people to share their stories unencumbered by the fear of the past. Furthermore, the rise of the internet has eased connectivity and increased information-sharing. Conditions appear to be ripe for a website like OutHistory.org to become a community-driven resource. However, the majority of contributors are currently scholars and academics.  While scholarly analysis is useful, community voices alone can uncover stories adrift in an aging cloud of shame to fill in gaps that academics likely missed. OutHistory.org is pursuing innovative ways to reach potential community contributors, including sponsoring courses on website use and offering prize money for outstanding contributions.  The website must continue to refine their outreach measures to ensure that the once silenced voices of the gay community are preserved. Fear is finally subsiding, and it is now their time to be heard.
 Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 146.
 Ibid., 148.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 7, 157.
 Lauren Jae Gutterman, “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making,” The Public Historian 32 (2010): 106.
 Ibid., 109.