Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice

Transcripts: Queer(y)ing Museums Episode 3: BC Jewish Queer & Trans Oral History Project

For the third episode of Queer(y)ing Museums, we were thrilled to have Carmel Tanaka, founder and Executive Director of JQT Vancouver, and Alysa Rutenberg, Archivist at the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC, join us to chat about the BC Jewish Queer and Trans Oral History Project.

You can find out more about the BC Jewish Queer & Trans Oral History Project here:

To learn more about JQT Vancouver:

To learn more about the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC:

Queer(y)ing Museums BC Jewish Queer & Trans Oral History Project

For the third episode of Queer(y)ing Museums, we were thrilled to have Carmel Tanaka, founder and Executive Director of JQT Vancouver, and Alysa Rutenberg, Archivist at the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC, join us to chat about the BC Jewish Queer and Trans Oral History Project.


Welcome to Queer(y)ing Museums, a BCMA gender and sexuality inclusion podcast series. Today, we are so pleased to have Carmel Tanaka and Alysa Rutenberg talk to us about the BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project. 


TP: Carmel is a queer neurodivergent divergent Jewpanese woman of color from Vancouver on the unceded territories of the Musqueam Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She is a community engagement professional, and her leadership initiatives include JQT, Vancouver, genocide prevention BC, and cross-cultural walking tours. She was named one of¬† Be’chol Lashon’s seven LGBTQ plus Jews of Color you should know.


DH: Alysa is the archivist at Jewish museum and archives of British Columbia based in Vancouver, on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people. Alysa did her undergraduate studies in history and art history at the university of British Columbia before heading to Montreal for two years to earn her master’s of library information and archival studies at McGill university. So welcome.¬†


TP: Yeah we’re so excited to have you both here today.¬† And just to start off, we were wondering if you wanted to add anything to introduce yourselves or just share where you are and how you’re doing in this moment.¬†


CT: Well, thank you for having us.¬† I’ll go first,¬† I’m calling in from Vancouver as you already gave a land acknowledgement on the unceded territories of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, and I am the founder and executive director of JQT Vancouver, and I also,¬† am the project coordinator of the BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project.


AR: So I have been the archivist for the JMA BC for six and a half years now,¬† where I run the archives department doing oral histories, archival donations, processing, digitization research projects, as well as managing some of our publications. So we’re very busy office with not that many people here.


DH: Thank you both.¬† So yeah, just to start,¬† for those who haven’t heard yet, would you like to introduce the BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project?¬†


CT: Sure. So the BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project is actually the first of its kind in the province.  Phase one was the collection of stories of Jewish, queer, and trans elders and their lived experiences and Jewish and LGBTQ communities across BC over the decades in an effort to make the Jewish community archives more complete and phase two, which is the phase JQT currently is in, is the online exhibit featuring content from said stories as well as developing a timeline of Jewish, queer and trans activity from as far back as we can discover until today.


And currently we have a sneak peek teaser of the online exhibit and JQT plans to launch our final exhibit shortly.


TP: Did you want to share a little bit about what inspired the project and why it’s important?¬†


CT: Sure. So not a day goes by when I don’t think about the decades upon decades of Jewish, queer and trans activists who have come before me and have pushed for human rights and inclusion and who paved the path for an organization like JQT to even exist today. It only seems fair to amplify their voices and share their stories publicly.


And I thought surely there would be stories already collected and sitting in the Jewish museum and archives of BC. I mean, so many of these people were at Stonewall riots where some of the first gay and lesbian couples to be married in Jewish synagogues in BC, find out that that actually was not the case.


And if we wanted Jewish LGBTQ content. We’d need to go out and get it. Hence our partnership¬† began with Alyssa who gave me a crash course on all things oral history followed by a oral history training session with a bunch of JQT’s.


AR: And just to kind of rewind a little bit before that even Carmel approached the JMA BC saying, basically, you don’t have enough stories of Jewish, queer and trans people. How can we remedy this? And as the archivist I had to do some thinking about what that actually would entail.¬† The how of this question. And we have a really robust oral history program in the 50 years that we’ve been conducting oral histories, we’ve recorded more than a thousand interviews, and it’s a really great way to connect with new audiences. It’s really accessible for a lot of people. We’re not asking someone to sit down and write and spend hours and hours writing and editing and feeling self-conscious about how they articulate things that you do when you’re writing out a document.


¬†And oral history really allow us to develop a personal connection and they often lead to long-term relationships. Somebody who comes in for an interview then wants to donate photos or other archival documents and they become like a long-term member of ours. It was really obvious project for me, at least,¬† that’s just such a great way to connect with people.


So that’s where it kind of started from.¬† And we do have all this expertise in oral history and we have a set of questions that we’ve worked from for much of the last 50 years that we alter for different projects and change them around, but they do stay at their core the same. So we worked really hard to update these questions, make them applicable for this project, but also looking at not just this project short-term life, but its long term existence.


We regularly revisit oral history interviews that were done in the early 1970s for different projects. So I am always looking at what somebody in 2050 might be looking at in our archives.


DH: Thank you both.¬† I’m just thinking about something that you said, Carmel is just the importance of elders stories and something that’s come up, in a few of our podcasts is just like, how do you find them? Cause they’re out there. So I’m glad to hear that that’s a part of your project.¬†


Just wondering if you would like to speak a little bit about your individual roles in this project.


¬†AR: So the the JMA BC has this long standing oral history program. We’ve, trained many community members over the years to conduct these interviews for us. We have just kind of a rolling program doing life stories.¬† So I do all the management of that program, but I don’t do most of the interviews myself.¬† We really try and match people who can get the best stories from each interviewee. So¬† sometimes it’s somebody who they really relate to, that they can have more of a conversation.


Sometimes it’s somebody who can go in really fresh and say, I have no idea what this thing is that you’re talking about what this historical event is, can you really walk me through it?¬† So that was something we had to really think about from the archivist perspective here and


The JMA BC also has the infrastructure because we have these thousand oral history interviews where we’re a well-oiled machine in terms of dealing with those. We also store the transcripts in specific ways. Trying to make them searchable as much as possible. And that process is something that’s actually kind of easy¬† to teach somebody or not easy, but it’s simple. Even if it requires a lot of work just to record those interviews in a specific way, and to transcribe them in a specific way and to make sure they’re in the archives forever.¬†


TP: As Desir√©e mentioned,¬† we’re really interested in the intergenerational aspect of the project. And we recognize how important that is and really value that aspect that you’re cultivating. So can you speak a little bit about this and what this means for you and the project?¬†


CT: Sure. So the plan was to have JQT volunteers. Many of whom are in their twenties and thirties interview JQT seniors in their homes, celebrate their stories with the next generation and for us youngins to learn about their lived experiences and also build connection in a siloed community.


Due to the pandemic, we had to pivot like everybody else and conduct the interviews virtually on zoom. The pandemic rattled everyone young and old. And I found myself running a tech service, helping our seniors load zoom onto their computers, figure out their camera and mic situation as well. Now everyone is a pro today, but in the early days of the pandemic, this was not the case in technology was a large obstacle to participation.


I ended up being the primary interviewer for reasons I can get into later, but would like to share the following quote from a young master’s student. As a 23 year old queer Jew and Chilliwack, I have never had much queer nor Jewish representation in my life. I’ve never had representation of queer Jews from the generation interviewed in your project.


And I really can’t put into words how much that means to me and how appreciative I am of this project and everyone’s participation. Now, I was really moved to read this email and I found as I’m sure many who have also visited the site have found excerpts from the interviews to be profound and nothing short of life affirming.


And this was the goal to celebrate our Jewish and queer identities.


TP: That’s so beautiful and moving to hear. Yeah.¬†


CT: And now they’re involved with JQT, which is great as also was saying, you know, by doing this project, you are starting to form community and build connections.


TP: I think that’s so important. And¬† I was just reflecting on this yesterday with somebody about how I feel like I’ve lacked that intergenerational aspect as well, growing up.


And I think that’s so common for so many folks in the community and just so integral. So that’s so amazing to hear.


DH: So we noticed such a deep, intentional community engagement aspect of this project. And we’re wondering if you’d want to share your process with this. Like how has it been finding people to collaborate with and maybe how you’re designing your project to meaningfully engage¬† LGBTQIA plus voices.


CT: So [I did] a lot of research to find out about existing Jewish, queer and oral history projects.¬† I mean, there’s some, but not specifically a project just on this.¬† And it wasn’t until quite recently that the New York public library reached out to us saying that our project might actually be the largest of its kind in the world.


It was kind of mind blowing.  And by the time the first invitations went out,  I had been working professionally in the Jewish community for a number of years in both Victoria,  on Vancouver island and in Vancouver, So I knew a lot of Jewish people right off the bat and also a lot of queer and trans Jews in the province.


And so I had a pretty long list to begin with of people who I knew and thought to myself, oh, it’ll be totally easy. 30 interviews won’t be a problem.¬† The truth is, is that I barely got any responses to the first wave of invitations. I can look back now, retroactively.¬† People simply did not have the spoons to deal with anything extra aside from basic survival.


 It was a pandemic and people were still in shock and an interview to talk about their lives and to go deeply into their lives was just not in the cards. So I was pretty disappointed because I remember hearing Dr. Hurd at UBC  when she was conducting an oral history project with trans seniors, there was a tidal wave of interest.


And so I expected that there would also be a tidal wave of interest.¬† In the end though, our project start dates did get delayed by half a year or so but I didn’t give up. And I sent out a second batch of invitations.¬† I didn’t know if they would, for sure be interested, but gave them a little nudge and started to get responses to my surprise and great relief.


And I had exhausted all my contacts. By that point, I started to spam, various different Facebook groups and Jewish community newsletters. ¬† It was already in and of itself a process to get Jewish organizations to add the call-out in their respective newsletters. Some had to go through board approvals first. Um, but you know,¬† it was great to see that communities across the province were willing to share a news of this. Even if they themselves didn’t know anyone who would be able to participate. And so again, a furthering of being more inclusive in the Jewish community. Important to note that we had 38 interviews, so almost 40, uh, 96 official nominations were actually sent out, even though I had done a lot of other, you know, Facebook, private messages and text messages and phone calls that I didn’t include in those official numbers. 40% agreed to do the interview. 22% (?) declined and 38%, uh, did not respond to the invitation. And I thought it might be important to share some of the reasons for declining: not safe, too vulnerable, not the right time.


¬†Don’t feel Jewish or queer enough. Don’t want to out anyone. And don’t have a story to tell. And the reasons for agreeing, which I found very warm: it’s about time, an incredible resource and a meaningful and timely project. Now in regards to designing the project to meaningfully engage our elder population.


For far too long, our voices have been silenced and I don’t do anything without participants full consent. Even though I have their signed waivers, I run everything by each person. They are my friends after all, and I want to make sure that they feel good about themselves and the video and what’s written in the exhibit.


The timeline of Jewish queer and trans history is a living timeline. Meaning it can be edited at any time. I keep getting new photographs to include. And with each new addition, the timeline becomes that much more rich. Now anonymity is a huge design feature that we would have loved to do.¬† But the reality is as such:¬† the Jewish community is also a small community at that here in Vancouver. And J QT is even smaller. We didn’t have the resources to guarantee anonymity as a result. People will make the connection because everyone knows everyone. And we thought of many options, including doing interviews and have it under lock and key perhaps until five years after death, but neither Alyssa or I could guarantee that this information would pass down to our successors.


And if we gave everyone flexibility to choose when to release their stories, it could become really complicated and we didn’t want to make any mistakes. So we kept it pretty simple and opted to interview only those who felt comfortable being interviewed and being identified as Jewish and LGBTQ2SIA+.


Now the researcher in me struggled with this, because that meant we weren’t collecting stories of those who aren’t out. And I hope that they will see and hear the stories feel inspired, and know that it’s safer to do so.¬† The training oral history session that the JQT’s group did Alyssa¬† was pivitol in terms of a learning experience for everyone involved, we got training on the oral history of best practices, and we were also able to give feedback to the museum on their questionnaire, which Alyssa was alluding to earlier.


We were able to massage the questions to fit the LGBTQ democraphic we were about to interview. So instead of using mother and father, we used parent one, parent two, and we understood that some people will have come out early in life while others may have led a hetero life prior to coming out.¬† So we needed to be flexible in how we approached everyone’s timeline and also really respecting anyone’s decision not to talk about a particular subject.


So skipping over questions.  A lot of people in the, in this particular demographic were estranged from family members and so did not want to talk about family, especially parents.


TP: Yeah. Thanks for sharing all that process. That’s multilayered and very thoughtful and so many things to consider. I think that’s really helpful¬† for anyone who’s considering or engaging with community and kind of any of these processes or aspects.¬†


CT: I think because I knew a lot of the people in advance there was already trust built in. So yes, Carmel is calling you and asking you to participate in this project.¬† But for those who I didn’t know prior to the project, it required a lot of phone conversations, emails, making sure that people felt safe going over the consent form, going over the questions in advance.


¬†Because again, a lot of these people went through a time and lived through a time where they were either illegal or were considered mentally ill.¬† And did not feel comfortable being out, even though today, it’s a different story, although there’s still plenty of work to be done.¬† And so as a result¬† it took more time to encourage people to participate.


And that’s where I think when we have to remember when we’re specifically interviewing LGBTQ elders is we have to give a lot of time. There cannot be deadlines, because I even still have people who are still stewing on whether or not to participate from two years ago. That’s how long it takes.


AR: Yeah. Also just from a process standpoint, I’ll kind of add, we have a set of questions that we’ve been using with occasional updates here and there.¬† And when we did this training, what we thought was going to be an interview trainer training workshop,¬† we just started going over the questions is part of that normal workshop,¬† that I’ve talked to many, many people over the years and we really started diving into the questions and this group was able to bring up things that Carmel and I hadn’t thought about one-on-one.


And so while we didn’t actually ultimately get to use most of them as interviewers at this time, considering the pandemic and the situation that Carmel was talking about, we really benefited from that group consultation. And it wasn’t really something that we had figured in. It kind of happened by accident, basically that we had this consultation and there were so many questions that were brought up about the question sheet itself, as well as we had long, long conversations about anonymity and what we could and couldn’t offer where I was coming from, not just from me as a person, but as the archivist for the Jewish museum and archives and what I could promise and what I couldn’t promise and what the release forms looked like.


And so I’m so glad that that workshop turned into that kind of community consultation. And it will definitely affect how I do¬† specific oral history projects again, in the future.¬† Anytime we’re targeting any sort of community I’m going to think about that. And push our traditional policies and practices a little bit around those issues.


TP: Yeah. Sounds like a lot of important learnings and¬† allowing the process to evolve to build those relationships and to be learning through community with that. So, wow. Sounds like a very courageous community¬† that you’re working with in cultivating those relationships.


¬†We wanted to ask you about the intersectional lens and disability justice framework that you were working from.¬† We noticed that you’re working with CANBC or, creating accessible neighborhoods BC, which,¬† for anyone who doesn’t know, and maybe you can speak about this more, but does consultation work engaging collaboratively to find solutions to and educate about barriers within communities, and so, these sorts of projects include accessibility, transportation, advocacy, empowerment, disability awareness,¬† and working with queer communities is an aspect of this. So, if you could speak about this framework that you’ve incorporated and how it’s been working with CANBC.¬†


CT: Yes. So there’s a huge intersection of queer disability and neurodivergent identities. And these are the terms used today, not necessarily the terms or concepts on the radar of the population we interviewed, who are elders today.¬† Many of them [do] not like using pronouns,¬† or the use of the word queer, which back in the day held a rather negative connotation.


And with this in mind, we collaborated closely with CANBC, as you described an organization, created for people with disabilities, by people with disabilities and, their founder and chair also of Burnaby pride and facilitator of chronically queer, Heather McCain,  they recognize the need to lift up the voices of people with intersecting identities who want to celebrate, educate about and raise awareness of their entire team.


¬†Something that rarely has space for and further, they consistently hear about the lack of representation for those who are disabled and or queer and trans who have intersecting identities. And I’m always learning from Heather on best practices, on text font, color, captioning, capitalizing, and hashtags, and the like, so it’s always been really important to, and it’s been great to have them on board and for them to also see the great work that we’re doing.


Disability justice began because there are voices that are not being heard. And there are people who want to share their stories, but aren’t offered the space or opportunity to do so. The BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project is an example of creating space to record and share the stories of a demographic that needs and deserves to be heard.


And JQT is very thankful to CANBC for their generous donation, towards our online exhibits and together with their funding and our new grant the Yosef Wosk a publication grant via Vancouver heritage foundation we will be completing our online exhibit this year.


DH: That’s great. I’m really glad to hear about that collaboration, Yeah, just as somebody who’s chronically ill and queer and neurodivergent myself, I’m happy to hear that that’s a consideration. And as you’re saying, there’s always things to learn.¬† Like, it’s not just about access. It’s about expanding the way we do things. And I think that it shows us new ways of doing things that include more people.¬† So I think the next question is: what advice would you have for other museums, galleries, institutions wanting to better engage with 2SLGBTQ plus communities, artists, and, or curators?


AR: Mostly what I’ll say is,¬† we do so much outreach for the archives. We’re always trying to get new archival donations, oral history candidates, people who want to be included in our publications and outreach for each project. Each community, each individual looks different.


In some cases we can really pursue people. And,¬† they’re actually honored by that. They really appreciate that they need that push. Sometimes it’s more quiet, a board member or somebody who is involved with us can approach someone as a friend instead of as an institution. And sometimes we just have to create a reputation for being a welcoming space, a organization that wants to make room.


And so when, when Carmel came to me and said, how do we include queer and trans Jews in the Jewish museum and archives? I was kind of honored that I had clearly created an environment where she knew that I would be willing to bounce around ideas, figure out what that project looked like. If it was, I think, early iterations of this included conversations about a publication or an exhibit or a podcast, and that she came to me with that idea  and said using your expertise, what can we actually do?


And that’s where the archivist side of me got to really kick in and say like, what, what actually can we do, what do we have the skills, what do we have the expertise to do? So we’ve worked for a long time on various multicultural projects, interfaith projects. We have a reputation for being very open to collaboration.


We like working with other organizations. We, the Jewish community here, do not exist in a silo. And we really try to represent that in our work. We have tons of people who come to us with really interesting back stories of how they have recently discovered that they’re Jewish or reconnected or married into Jewish families that they want to learn more about.


So we did all of this work and I had no idea that it was leading to this project in particular. I have no idea what it’ll lead to next, but just trying to be open to that and then think about how¬†

we are non-profit. We are able to apply for grants. We also just have that institutional respect that we have earned over all of these years. So being able to use that power,  and create space for other people is really important to me.


So. I think  other museums, galleries, institutions, archives, especially, is my passion, really need to look at how they can use that institutional power, how they can use their, in some cases, a physical presence in a government building or  in a large museum in an institution that lots of people visit and how to leverage that power to groups who could really use it.


CT: And to add to that, there is a fine line between supporting marginalized communities because you believe in us and supporting us because it’s in style and on trend to do performative allyship and supporting, the LGBTQ community, and our voices and little nonprofits like JQT by providing the scaffolding of privilege that your established institutions have access to is warmly welcomed, to be a silent partner that firmly and warmly welcomes partnership with marginalized communities to amplify their voices and commits to listening to what we have to say about the work. As well as the process of working together, creating space, as Alyssa said, to be heard,¬† let us take the lead and let us shine. And of course and most importantly, nothing about us without us.


CT: I do want to say something that I remembered for earlier, which was related to the disability justice point, for the first couple of interviews. I was rather inexperienced. It was my first foray into the oral history world and Alysa did say that I would eventually find my rhythm and I certainly did. And I got good at knowing which questions to ask, how to ask when, and  importantly, when not to task. And one of the things that I learned, is that due to the sensitive and triggering content being shared by some of the interviewees, such as sexual violence, trauma with the Holocaust and beyond,  it became clear that interviewers need specific trauma training.


And I’m not a therapist, I’m just a queer Jew who wants to collect your story about also being a queer Jew and found that we definitely do need more tools, especially when interviewing¬† elders in our community who can go there because some of the interviews were really difficult. And I had to sit with for very, very long time, and process and walk off.


But I will always remember because I will never forget any of these stories.


DH: Yeah. I’m so glad that you bring that up. Cause I think thinking about that, like beyond just like collecting a story, right? I mean, it’s like, you need to think about the impact of things beyond just that interaction. And especially when you’re dealing with really traumatic histories. Thank you for sharing that.¬†¬†¬†


So maybe we’ll just end with asking, we want to know what is your vision, what is your hope for the queer museum gallery heritage sector?¬† And also for queer artists, curators, collaborators, and for the community.


AR: So I am very much coming from the archivist perspective. I very specifically went to school to be trained, to be an archivist and some of these bigger projects, the lifespan of this project in particular, beyond just the oral histories is something that I definitely have a harder time wrapping my mind around.


I’m great at cataloguing at creating digitization projects at running an oral history, but I am not the person who usually then turns around and shares this work with the public. That is not an expertise of mine, but I sometimes get bogged down in the part where I don’t know what the end looks like.


And this project really made me focus on what I could do and what I could offer my expertise with oral histories. Carmel and I spent hours going back and forth about the questions about anonymity, about how to approach people about who might nominate other people, all of the practicalities of that.


And while using all of my expertise, I then was able to start to conceptualize some of the stuff that usually¬† is beyond my job description as archivist. So I really hope that other organizations and especially other archivists,¬† if they get approached by somebody who wants to do a project, that they don’t really know what it’s gonna look like, to look at the skills they already have to look at what they can logistically do, and then see where it goes.


I still don’t know where exactly this project may lead in the future, but at this time we can do the oral history we can facilitate those. We can store them in perpetuity. And not get overwhelmed and not try and go so big that we can’t do anything at all. I think that happens a lot for a lot of organizations.


They don’t know where to start, so they never start at all. Figuring out where you can start is, is all that matters, taking the first step.


CT: And I guess I’m the ideas person who can take the contents and run with it. So I even before starting the actual oral history collecting,¬† I already had this idea of big events and, lights shining camera action. So it was a matter of slowing down for me and collecting the content so that I can do that.


¬†An example that comes to mind where I feel like the world of, heritage and queer everything, is doing really well is Queer Arts Festival (QAF). You may be familiar with it. And with that in mind, you know, there are a number of queer cultural groups that are doing incredible work already, and they’re highlighting¬† tangible as well as intangible forms of culture and heritage.


And, these organizations are small and mighty and need funding support, and all of them are fighting for the same pockets of money and are often pitted against one another. Which is very unfortunate because it’s all important. Everyone’s stories are important. So my vision for this type of work is one where we do a lot more cross cultural queer work together and can share our stories and lived experiences together.


And  there to be plenty of funding a flowing for us to make our creative dreams come true, as well as pay rent and put food on the table, in this extremely unaffordable city. And what was really great with the Jewish museum is at the time JQT was not yet a nonprofit. We were but a small grassroots group of queer Jews.


And so the Jewish museum was able to use their institutional privilege to apply for grants. Which I’m very thankful for, from the Jewish community foundation and the Waldman foundation. And during the project JQT did eventually become a nonprofit. And so in many ways, this project was incubated by the museum in order to help us get some wings to move forward with it.


And I’m really excited. People were really excited to see the final product.


DH: That’s great to hear what a transformation too, being able to grow in that way.¬†


CT: And I don’t recommend becoming a nonprofit during a pandemic.¬†


DH: Yeah.


CT: That was a gong show.


DH: Thank you for tuning into the third episode of Queer(y)ing Museums. At this point, our conversation ventured into talking about the impacts of Covid-19 on both JQT’s process of becoming a nonprofit and on the oral history project. So tune in very soon as we will release the second half of this episode shortly.


 CT: And what was really great with the Jewish museum is at the time JQT was not yet a nonprofit. We were but a small grassroots group of queer Jews.


And so the Jewish museum was able to use their institutional privilege to apply for grants. Which I’m very thankful for, from the Jewish community foundation and the Waldman foundation. And during the project JQT did eventually become a nonprofit. And so in many ways, this project was incubated by the museum in order to help us get some wings to move forward with it.


And I’m really excited. People were really excited to see the final product.


DH: That’s great to hear what a transformation too, being able to grow in that way.¬†


CT: And I don’t recommend becoming a nonprofit during a pandemic.¬†


DH: Yeah.


CT: That was a gong show. 


DH: Yeah, I’m just actually curious. Like what, what kind of barriers the pandemic? I mean, of course, so many.¬†


CT: So one of the, it would seem very logical and an easy thing now today. But in the early days of the pandemic, simple things like opening up a bank account was very difficult because before you would have to physically go into the bank, write your signature, that would then, and you would have to go along with everyone else.


Who’s also signers. But because there’s multiple people in one space, you couldn’t do that. So we were having to find different ways of virtually signing without witnesses and bumping that around to everyone, wherever they were at. It was very difficult and processes that would normally have taken maybe a single meeting to coordinate took months.


¬†That makes sense. And now are there processes and protocols on how to do that at VanCity, and now the restrictions, lifting it’s easier, but yes, don’t recommend that at all. Something that really, I think shed a lot of light, during the pandemic is how inaccessible these processes are to begin with. We found in a lot of our community, especially queer community, we were already on all these virtual platform. Discord comes to mind as an example.


And these were ways that many of our community members were communicating with one another, even before the pandemic. And all of a sudden, the world started to use a technology developed by the disability community, for themselves being like, oh, look at this hot thing that we could use. And we’re like, well, we’ve been doing this for ever because we can’t meet.


Or we, it’s not safe to take public transportation because we live in a rural area to come to you or we physically can’t because we’re not able to. So I think,¬† the pandemic Sean, is that, uh, the word Sean shown? Yeah, I think so. It always sounds wrong. Shone a light


on forms of communication that were either not known about because we had to use it by necessity, starting to become an and being used today  by everyone. So I think there needs to be more recognition about that and realizing that a simple trip of opening up a bank account and going to the, to your local branch is not something that everyone can do.


DH: Absolutely. I know it’s like it took this to move things along into it in a more accessible world. And that’s, I don’t know, that’s pretty tragic but certainly glad to see¬† some of the accessibility sticking around, I hope.¬†


AR: We really noticed it with oral histories. I was previously, reluctant, doesn’t even begin to cover it. We essentially only did interviews that we could conduct in-person we have a pretty nice recorder set up,¬† with external microphones, the quality is very good.


I am always concerned about long-term preservations about these uncompressed large-scale formats that are really good for long-term digital preservation. And so during the first, probably six months of the pandemic, I just didn’t want to do interviews. I figured we would catch up when we were done and that would be it.


And it was really this project that we wanted to get rolling. Carmel had reached out to all of these people already, so we didn’t want to leave them hanging. We also knew that a number of them were in different communities. They weren’t locally accessible anyway. So we had to grapple with using zoom and while I still have some problems with it. And I still would prefer, we use our external microphones and all of that learning that, it’s worth it. Even if the audio is not quite what I would like. We are able to interview people who aren’t available in Vancouver. Aren’t physically able to come into the offices, during the pandemic, especially that they have,¬† concerns about their immunity and their safety¬†


coming in and being in person on a small space with someone. So it definitely forced me to think outside the logistical box. I think as I said, I’m the details person. I’m the person like poking holes in something of like, well, how does that work? What are we actually going to do here?


And I suddenly had to be doing that to myself and also trying to move forward with the project. So I’m thankful that this project happened at this time. I think¬† it is a bit of a silver lining and it worked out really well.¬†


CT: Something to add to, using zoom is it also provided video, which we were not originally intending to use as part of the project. It being an oral history project turned into a video oral history project, which was great, cause it really helps with representation.¬† But I did find that I was having to look into the camera, which meant not looking at the questions or the person for their reactions in order for them to feel like I was in the room with them and reacting this way, which is not necessarily everyone’s jam as an interviewer.


But I did find that I had a better rapport if they felt like I was looking straight at them and felt like I was in the room with them. Now, of course there were a couple of interviews, which were absolutely fascinating because the mic was not working on the computer. So they had to physically phone in, on a telephone while I was having the video there.


And it was slightly off in terms of the sound syncing, but these are the things that you have to do in order to make something work, because they’re in the middle of nowhere,¬† in the, in the rural BC and there’s no way¬† to get to them, but we still wanted to have their stories. Now in terms of areas that we are still waiting to collect of community voices from are Northern BC.


So that’s prince Rupert prince George area, as well as the Okanagan I mean, we know you’re out there because there have always been queer Jews and there were always will be queer Jews everywhere. But yeah, very successful in getting,¬† the Vancouver island and Gulf island area, as well as the mainland Vancouver and Nelson area,¬† the Kootenay’s covered.¬†


DH: So that sounds like a bit of a call-out, so people can still participate and share their stories? 


CT: Yes and no, we definitely need more funding in order to keep collecting more stories.I will definitely be available for those who are in the north as well as in the Okanagan in order to round out the project, but we are in our final stages, at the moment. 


TP: And on that note, can you share maybe  how folks can keep tabs on your project and kind of view aspects of it and the different phases as it rolls out?


CT: Sure. So you can visit the online exhibits, which currently is in a sneak peek teaser version on¬† JQT’s website so that’s J Q T¬† there’s a link on the homepage, straight to the oral history project. And yeah, our social media, you can follow us. Our social media handles are on Facebook and Instagram @JQTvan and I would imagine the same also for the museum.¬†


AR: Yes. The Jewish museum is online at We are on Facebook and Instagram, although we don’t update as regularly as we should. And so we don’t know what the future holds, but we will keep updated on our website and our media.


DH: Thank you both for sharing also about the pandemic and how that impacted the project. Cause I that’s something that Tanya and I haven’t necessarily specifically been asking folks, but this certain way shows us the ways in which it’s kind of shaped different projects¬† and led to new ways of doing things. So that’s really interesting. So I think,¬† unless there’s anything else you’d like to share, yeah, go ahead.¬†


CT: So the BC Jewish queer and trans oral history project gave rise to a couple more initiatives at JQT  not knowing in advance that this would be the case.


One such initiative is the JQT seniors initiative. It’s a working group of Jewish, LGBTQ and senior health care organizations, as well as JQT seniors. ¬† Whose mission is to lead an awareness campaign, addressing senior social isolation, as well as the fear of going back into the closet and or hiding one’s religious or cultural identities upon entering long-term care.


So that was one and it also gave rise to Twice Blessed 2.0, the Jewish LGBTQ2SIA+ initiative, which is a community needs assessment to better understand the current needs of the Jewish LGBTQ community, which is based on a 2004 needs assessment that only resurfaced in 2021 during the oral history project interviews, to find out that it sat on a desk for nearly two decades.


So it’s time to update that we will be having¬† a final report, out next month,¬† with the findings from this needs assessment. And, I thought I would leave you with some wise words from my mentor and friend, Dr. Aaron Devor , who also participated in the oral history project.


“We should all learn from each other with an open heart and open mind. These are things that I’ve had to learn along the way, and that it rarely helps to be defensive. And always, almost always helps to listen, watch, be kind, be generous, learn from other people. There’s something to be learned from everybody and something to be learned from every interaction and that our job as the rabbis have taught us is not to try and finish making the world a perfect place, but it is our job to continue to try.


DH: Thank you for that. 


TP: That’s a beautiful quote and thank you for sharing.¬†


CT: And it’s available. I don’t want the exhibit with the video with Aaron.¬†


DH: And for listeners too, Dr. Devor is the chair the Trans Archives at the University of Victoria. And we just recorded another podcast with, Amelia Smith who recently designed a digital exhibition for them. So lots of shout outs to the Trans Archives. They’re doing great work over there.¬†


TP: Thank you so much for, so many amazing insights and sharing, sharing your journey with this beautiful, beautiful project. So thank you, both Alysa and Carmel. This was wonderful. 


AR: Thank you so much for having us.