By Sunny Clark, PQ Monthly
One does not expect to see the words “rebel” and “librarian” joined to describe an archivist, but then, few dare dream of an Ismoon Hunter-Morton at all.
Historian Ismoon Hunter-Morton recalls being politically-charged since grade school.
“I didn’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance,” she says. “My family was atheist and I thought it was unfair that I had to say it. I remember being taken into the office … and asked what part I objected to. I was scared, and a shy little girl, staring at my feet; but I pointed out that I didn’t believe in God and didn’t believe that ‘liberty and justice for all’ was true. I didn’t feel it was okay to say that when it wasn’t happening.”
The future curator of human histories later risked her hard-won scholarship to Antioch College in 1994, when she and a fellow student at her high school staged a protest.
“A group of us objected to sexism in our school by simultaneously holding up protest signs during the coronation of the Rose Festival Queen,” she recalls. “The crowd didn’t appreciate the gesture and tried to rip the signs from our hands, but we stood our ground. … We made the front page of the [Oregonian] Metro section. … Students began asking questions based on our signs, like, ‘What is objectification?’ and many were talking about feminism for the very first time.”
That same year, Hunter-Morton, then newly-arrived at Antioch and pursuing a degree in women’s studies, took a giant step toward realizing her personal history. “I was always bisexual, but came out that first day of college, feeling safely removed from homophobic high school teachers, several of whom were affiliated with the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance (OCA) — organized to ban homosexuality from public schools, and to legally group homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality,” she says.
Hunter-Morton eventually returned to Oregon, first enrolling at Portland Community College and then at Portland State University, where she signed up for a capstone course with the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN) and was soon hooked on LGBTQ chronicles. After receiving her bachelor’s in history in 2001, two Pride Foundation Scholarships allowed her to earn her master’s degree in library and information sciences from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukie.
Following graduation in 2005, Hunter-Morton worked as a substitute librarian for Multnomah County. In 2008, she started volunteering her time at Q Center, and has curated the Kendall Clawson Library there for the last four years. In 2010 she began working on Cascade AIDS Project’s oral history project, CAP Archives, a job that reignited her interest in GLAPN.
“GLAPN is so important because our history has been silent and invisible, even as recently as 10 years ago. It’s so recent that we’ve come out,” she says. “The whole history of civil rights is an inter-connected matrix of histories. GLAPN records the history of what queer people have experienced locally, from our partners dying and their families throwing out our love letters, to the paddy wagon pushing up against the bar door to arrest people for being queer, and everything in between.”
Along with an on-going roster of volunteer projects, Hunter-Morton now splits her time between Washington County’s Forest Grove Library and GLAPN. Elected president in June of this year, the young archivist is thoughtfully fueling the culture of GLAPN, including recently partnering with organizations like Q Center to produce the “Queer Heroes NW” multimedia project and with the Dill Pickle Club to offer Gay Walking Tours of the City, led by GLAPN’s Dave Kohl, author of the singular tome on local LGBTQ history, “A Curious and Peculiar People.”
Hunter-Morton says the stories GLAPN gathers are “nuanced and complex. We tell … of the past so that, in the future, when the gay community is shocked by some level of discrimination or hatred, we can see how we survived it before, and come through it again with that knowledge, using strategies from the past.”
She hopes her work will particularly help LGBTQ youth to realize that there are others like them, and that they are part of a community.
“I want GLAPN to do more than record history,” Hunter-Morton says. “I’d like to develop school presentations and scholastic course components. Kids deserve to know that they’re not alone.”
Forever outside any box, part rebel and part pioneer, self-described genderqueer Ismoon Hunter-Morton is fluid in her own identity, serving her convictions and, as a trustee of queer history, fueling our curiosity and conversation. Her story is our story, a page from regional history, carefully collected. Considering Hunter-Morton’s energy, and ever-expanding clarity of purpose, the best parts of her story may well be yet to come.
Local Heroes welcomes nominations for the unsung heroes among us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.