LGBTQ History Month: New leader settles in at LA LGBTQ archival group

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022
Share this Post:
Tony Valenzuela is the new executive director of the ONE Archives Foundation that is based in Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy Tony Valenzuela
Tony Valenzuela is the new executive director of the ONE Archives Foundation that is based in Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy Tony Valenzuela

As the ONE Archives Foundation marks its 70th anniversary in November, making it the oldest continuously operating LGBTQ organization in the U.S., its new executive director is settling into the role and introducing himself to the local community. Tony Valenzuela is helping the Los Angeles-based LGBTQ archival group rebuild after being impacted by the COVID pandemic and expand the histories it tells to be more diverse.

The health crisis forced it to close its gallery space in the city of West Hollywood, though it now opens to the public when it mounts an exhibition or hosts an event. And although its platinum anniversary is next month, the nonprofit is planning to host most of its celebratory events in 2023.

"Part of my vision is to increase our reach regionally in this community and cultivate this organization as one that is deeply engaged with our many communities. That will be reflected more in our programming," said Valenzuela, who expects to announce the anniversary plans early next year. "I think that the ONE Archives Foundation is the authority around LGBTQ history, certainly in Los Angeles, and I want to continue cultivating that."

Valenzuela is only the second person to be executive director of the foundation, as the first, Jennifer C. Gregg, was hired in 2016. She officially stepped down on September 7, several weeks after Valenzuela began working at the nonprofit August 16.

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter in early October, at the start of LGBTQ History Month, Valenzuela said he sees the foundation as being a counterweight against the move to erase LGBTQ history from school textbooks and LGBTQ books from public libraries. He was "happy" to see the need to educate young Americans about the country's LGBTQ history was an integral plot point in the recently released gay rom-com "Bros."

"There is that quote of 'a people without a history is a people without a future.' I believe the ONE Archive Foundation is an organization preserving and educating about our rich history so we can secure a just ... so we can work toward a just and secure future for LGBTQ people," said Valenzuela, 54, a gay man who has called West Hollywood home since 1998.

He wants to ensure that LGBTQ history takes into account people of color and the diverse communities that makeup the broader LGBTQ community. It is about broadening the storytelling, explained Valenzuela, as opposed to erasing certain groups of LGBTQ people.

"I have a vision for this organization, and I think the vision I have certainly is aligned with what this organization is already doing around expanding the narrative, so working across diverse communities and telling stories that haven't yet been told," he said. "It isn't about erasing or ignoring or even to stop talking about the contributions of gay men and white gay men in the history of HIV/AIDS activism. That is not the point, it is to expand the narrative."

Valenzuela is the second gay Latino in recent months to be the first hired to lead one of the state's LGBTQ archival groups. As the B.A.R. reported earlier this month, San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society hired Roberto Ordeñana as its new executive director, making him the first Latino and second person of color to hold the post.

"I am the first Latino executive director and our board chair is the first African American in that position," Valenzuela said. "Those are important milestones, certainly to me and to many other people in regards to representation and who is in leadership positions."

Valenzuela said he looked forward to getting to know Ordeñana and his counterparts at the various LGBTQ archival groups across California. The organizations have an informal network among themselves and have banded together in recent years to push for state funding and other support.

"Having just started here, it is on my agenda to do," said Valenzuela.

Unlike in San Francisco, where plans are in the works to build a large, freestanding LGBTQ museum and archival center, no such project is being discussed in Los Angeles, said Valenzuela. Though he didn't rule it out becoming a priority in the future.

"Who knows, maybe someday? That is the kind of endeavor that takes a lot of research to see if we are able to raise that kind of money," he said. "It is not on the table currently. But who knows in the future, certainly there would be room in a city the size of Los Angeles for it."

The foundation does have its gallery space in West Hollywood where it can mount exhibitions and host events. Its next public programming there is scheduled for December, and it plans to continue hosting hybrid in-person and online events amid the ongoing COVID pandemic.

The nonprofit operates on a calendar year budget between $800,000 to upward of $1 million. It has run deficits in recent years, according to its tax filings compiled by ProPublica, with an operating budget in 2020 of $749,831 but net income falling short by $148,964. In 2019, its expenses were reported as $1,164,448, causing a shortfall of $114,955 in its net income.

Gregg's salary was $142,000 according to the foundation's 2019 990 tax filing, while Valenzuela is earning $150,000. He oversees a staff of three full-time people and is in the process of hiring someone to manage education initiatives for the foundation.


The nonprofit traces its founding back to November 1952, when members of the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society incorporated that month as ONE Inc. in order to publish a magazine. The inaugural issue of ONE magazine was released in January 1953 and is credited with being the first nationally distributed LGBT magazine.

In 1956, magazine contributors Jim Kepner and activist W. Dorr Legg, along with Thomas M. Merritt, Ph.D., formed its educational arm, the ONE Institute. While the magazine ceased publication in 1967, the institute continued to be active and became known for issuing advanced degrees in "Homophile Studies."

Kepner, meanwhile, had amassed a sizeable collection of LGBTQ materials he dubbed the Western Gay Archives. It would be displayed in a Hollywood storefront and eventually renamed as the International Gay & Lesbian Archives.

By the mid-1990s the archives had merged with the ONE Institute then was relocated to the University of Southern California's campus in 2000. It would again be rebranded, this time as the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, and eventually become an official part of the USC Libraries system in October 2010.

"My job as executive director, in part, is amplifying the collection at the archives," Valenzuela said. "It is the largest collection of LGBTQ materials in the world."

The foundation and the USC-based archives "are formal partners," he explained. "We act as the community-facing nonprofit organization that does LGBTQ history programming while also amplifying the archives."

The two entities do joint programming together, noted Valenzuela, while a main priority for the foundation is its educational initiatives. It is a major driver behind the implementation of California's FAIR ACT, which requires the teaching of LGBT subjects and topics in the state's public schools, and conducts webinars for educators on how to teach such lessons.

"We also do LGBTQ lesson plans, which we work with educators to develop," noted Valenzuela.

Each school semester the foundation also trains eight youth ambassadors for queer history. The participants receive a stipend and will go on field trips to LGBTQ historic sites while also conducting research in the archives at USC.

"We mentor a number of high school students to act as ambassadors for queer history in their schools and community," said Valenzuela.

Since 2009, Valenzuela has worked in the arts and culture space; he also is two-thirds through writing a memoir. Starting in 2009 he served as executive director of Lambda Literary, which supports and promotes LGBTQ writers.

Between 2018 and 2020 he had led the Foundation for The AIDS Monument and helped oversee its effort to construct a memorial to those lost to the disease in West Hollywood Park. The public outdoor space is in the LGBTQ enclave that is its own city in Los Angeles County and is undergoing a $100 million renovation. Valenzuela oversaw the successful capital campaign to raise the $5 million needed to build it, with its dedication expected to take place in 2024.

"I feel privileged to be doing this work. So much of the work done in our communities are direct services, which are essential and critical, or civil rights work that has to do with lobbying and elections," said Valenzuela. "The arts and culture space, certainly in the queer community, is smaller but the kind of work that connects deeply with people because they see their stories reflected in this work."

To learn more about the ONE Archives Foundation, visit its website.

Updated 10/27/22 to correct that Tony Valenzuela is 54 years old.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.