UNC Asheville Oral History Archive Shares LGBTQ+ Community Stories Of WNC

Aug 23, 2019

  UNC Asheville launched an LGBTQ+ oral history archive earlier this year.  BPR talked with those working on the project to see what they’ve uncovered so far.

Corey Childers just graduated from UNC Asheville in May. But they stuck around the city this summer to work with Professor Amanda Wray to interview participants for the university’s first LGBTQ+ archive of oral histories. 

 They say that being a part of this effort has made them feel more comfortable in the queer community of Western North Carolina. 

 “I feel like I was very nervous about the whole thing because it’s just sort of intimidating to talk to someone who has had so much life experience and I’m just a kid,” says Childers, who is gender nonbinary. 

 Childers came with the archive team, Wray and UNC Asheville senior Libby Ward, to BPR’s studio with Michael Harney, who they interviewed for the project. Harney has been a fixture in Asheville since he moved here in the 1990’s.

 “Most people don’t know my name is Michael Harney they call me the Rubberman or the Needle guy or the AIDs guy,” says Harney, who is gay.   

Harney founded the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville in 1994 despite the fact that it was illegal to give out needles until 2016. He says that in the last 25 years the organization has given out over 2 million needles 

 “We always saw it as something that needed to be done so we went around the barriers- legislative or otherwise. And so we did the work,” says Harney. 

 Harney also works as an educator for Western North Carolina Aids Project and teaches Spanish at A-B Tech. 

This is just one of the stories the archive team has collected so far.  Wray says they currently have over 20 hours of interviews for the project which is funded by Blue Ridge Pride and the YMCA. Ultimately it will live on Blue Ridge Pride’s virtual LGBTQ Center.     

This Saturday they are hosting a workshop to train volunteers to interview community members for the oral history archive. They are also looking for more participants who want to be interviewed. 

UNC Asheville is a sponsor of Blue Ridge Public Radio.