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Phebe Beiser and the Ohio Lesbian Archives are saving LGBTQ history from being lost to time

Phebe Beiser
Posted at 11:52 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 18:41:58-04

CINCINNATI — Phebe Karen Beiser is a student of history and spent years working as a local librarian. So, it makes sense she's one of those leading the charge to preserve local LGBTQ+ history from a room in the basement of a church in Clifton.

"I see my life flash before my eyes all the time in here, especially the fliers because I lived a lot of that, you know the dances, the potlucks, the rallies, the marches," Beiser said, sitting surrounded by overflowing boxes of books and memorabilia.

Beiser came out as a lesbian while in college at Miami University, in an era when the LGBTQ+ community had to operate largely underground and within networks that formed mostly by word of mouth and in spaces deemed safe.

Ohio Lesbian Archives
Phebe Beiser, co-founder of the Ohio Lesbian Archives, stands in its crowded home in the basement of Clifton United Methodist Church.

She helped start the Ohio Lesbian Archives with her friend Victoria Ramstetter in 1989, in a space above the old Crazy Ladies Bookstore in Northside. It was an alternative bookstore, which fostered community at a time when there weren't many places queer people could gather and feel comfortable. The now-defunct Stonewall Cincinnati organization had offices upstairs.

Phebe Beiser Pride
Phebe Beiser and Janice Uhlman at Pride int he mid 1990s. Provided.

The pair didn't set out to build such a large collection.

"We kind of fell into it, really, but we realized once some of the material was gone, that was it," she said.

The Archives moved into space in Clifton United Methodist Church in 2006. You'll know it by the "Wonder Woman" original comic in the small window in the door. It features rows of bookshelves, boxes of buttons, filing cabinets full of fliers and magazines, and posters on the walls. It's a visual history from a time when little was written or broadcast about LGBTQ+ life in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Dinah newsletter
The lesbian feminist publication, Dinah, was created in Cincinnati but distributed across the region and around the country.

In the filing cabinets, you'll find an array of "Dinah" magazine newsletters, a lesbian feminist publication from right here in Cincinnati. It got delivered, though, across the region and the country. It - and the fliers - were the unofficial town hall for many in the community - where they learned of events.

"The fliers tell the stories and without the fliers, depending on what the newspapers covered, good luck [finding a record of things,]" Beiser said.

While the materials Beiser and the Archives keep started with and skew toward lesbian literature and history, she said the 501(c)(3)'s name might confuse people about how broad its reach is - saving LGBTQ+ history from across the Tri-State.

"We wanted to make sure that lesbian material was our focus," she said. "We were never exclusive, but that was our focus."

The Archives takes donations - books, DVDs, LGBTQ-focused organizations' archives, personal journals - and is outgrowing its current home. Beiser said the board is looking for a new space to allow it to grow - and allow more people to visit and study. Right now, Beiser and some friends organize things - and some college students are helping with inventory.

Phebe Beiser headshot
Phebe Beiser helped found the Ohio Lesbian Archives in 1989. Provided.

The Ohio Lesbian Archives has become a resource for students of all types.

"Younger visitors are like 'wow!' and they are really learning history," she said."And if they're queer, it makes it that much more impactful."

Beiser and her friend, another Points of Pride honoree, Michael Chanak have just launched a Cincinnati Pride history website, to create a resource for this city's complicated history with the lGBTQ+ rights movement.

For having the foresight to preserve local LGBTQ+ materials for generations ahead to study and remember, Phebe Beiser is one of the Tri-State's Points of Pride.

WCPO is committed to telling the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Tri-State year-round. If you know someone who should be recognized as a Point of Pride, send an email to or