Invisible Histories Awarded $2.2 Million Grant from the Mellon Foundation to Save LGBTQ History in the Deep South

Invisible Histories has been awarded a grant of $2.2 million from the Mellon Foundation to support the location, preservation, and research of LGBTQ history in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle. “This grant is so important to both the sustainability of Invisible Histories as an organization, but also to our ability to provide support to the existing and undiscovered collections of LGBTQ Southern people whose stories we haven’t yet begun to tell,” said Josh Burford, Co-Executive Director. The grant specifically focuses on:

  • Sustainability & Growth: this funding will allow Invisible Histories to focus on diversifying fiscal support for the organization particularly through recurrent and planned giving as well as programmatic sponsorships. Further, this funding presents an opportunity to assess if expansion of Invisible Histories into additional Southern states is possible and sustainable. Invisible Histories administration will be evaluating the soundness of expanding into additional Southern states which is a critical need as attacks on LGBTQ history, education, and peoples increases in the region.
  • Collections Diversity: Invisible Histories collection database can be seen at This grant will provide the ability for Invisible Histories staff to focus more resources and time on collaboratively partnering with People of Color and Transgender/Nonbinary individuals and organizations across the South in order to further increase representation of those communities within our collections and the overall historical record. People of Color and Transgender/Nonbinary people are underrepresented even within LGBTQ collections and historical research so these efforts are the primary priority for the coming years. Some of these efforts include:
    • Queer History Field Kits which are backpacks filled with supplies to help facilitate community archiving and oral histories. Individuals and organizations from across the Deep South are selected to receive a kit and participate in an online training on how to best preserve their local community’s narratives. The first cohort of Field Kits consists of 11 individuals and organizations. Field Kits can be sponsored by individuals, organizations, and businesses who would like to increase the accessibility of community archiving across the South.
    • Invisible Histories is currently fundraising for and developing a community organizer and leader institute that will focus on: educating LGBTQ community organizers and leaders on their local histories and 2) developing skills for participants to practically preserve their own historical records so that they may be saved for generations to come.
  • Safety & Accessibility of Collections: Invisible Histories will be working with partner community archiving and traditional institutions across the South to create policies, resources, and plans for the safety of collections. As state legislatures increase their censorship of marginalized history, literature, and education, these efforts will address ways to ensure that materials remain secure and available to the public regardless of political changes at the local and state level.
  • Education & Outreach: Invisible Histories is a one-stop shop for Southern LGBTQ history. As such, we not only collect archival materials, we research local history, work with students and scholars across the world, and create educational talks, exhibits, and online media. Some of these efforts include:
    • Graduate Internships: Invisible Histories have hosted over 70 student interns. Interns receive course credit through their university and engage in projects like exhibit curation, metadata creation, digital preservation, and numerous research projects.
    • Website & Blog: Invisible Histories has recently launched a new website that provides in-depth information on the organization as well as educational resources for the public. Part of this includes instructions for how to archive your own materials (pdf), a packet for new donors (pdf), virtual exhibits, digital collections, and a blog that is contributed to by Invisible Histories staff, interns, and partner scholars.
    • Queer History South: Queer History South (QHS) is a network of over 700 people across the US who are invested in the preservation, research, and education pertaining to Southern LGBTQ history. QHS meets for a conference every two years at varying locations across the South. This March 23-24, nearly 200 people met in Charlotte, NC to discuss issues in LGBTQ archiving, history, and education and created plans on how to address rising anti-LGBTQ socio-political sentiments in our region and elsewhere.
    • Exhibits: Invisible Histories have created a number of in-person and online exhibits. The organization is in the process of creating two additional in-person exhibits and several small online exhibits that will premiere over the next few years.

As state legislatures across the South continue their relentless attacks on marginalized history and people, LGBTQ communities have become central in a battle to maintain public access to their own histories, literature, rights, and healthcare. “In the current socio-political climate, the need to both preserve our histories and learn from them is more important than ever. Having resources for communities to learn about their struggles and triumphs is an invaluable tool in the fight for liberation, equity, and justice. Archiving is power and we want to give that back to our folks,” said Dr. Maigen Sullivan, Co-Executive Director. The support from the Mellon Foundation will not only allow Invisible Histories to more effectively save these at-risk stories, but sends a strong message that the humanities are critical for the overall welfare of marginalized people and that LGBTQ people have and remain a vital part of American history and culture.

The Mellon Foundation is a leader in supporting humanities across the US and their investment in the South in a much needed and important action in the face of rising censorship, anti-intellectualism, and anti-DEI initiatives. “This investment of funds from the Mellon Foundation is not only a show of trust in the work of Invisible Histories, but also a testament to the importance of the place of Southern LGBTQ history in a national conversation about our community,” said Burford. “And while our project and this funding specifically focuses on the South, it is an important reminder that efforts to save underrepresented histories should and can exist everywhere not only to better understand our rich and diverse histories, but also to ensure that our communities are well prepared to organize and advocate for themselves as those before us did. Like we are fond of saying, as goes the South, as goes the nation,” said Dr. Sullivan.

Invisible Histories, founded and managed by Joshua Burford and Maigen Sullivan, PhD, seeks to create a counter narrative to the “lacking South” and provide a sense of community and heritage for Southern LGBTQ people. Invisible Histories locates, preserves, researches, and creates educational programs around Southern LGBTQ history. Invisible Histories is not a traditional archive and instead acts as an intermediary between institutions, organizations, and everyday folks. Invisible Histories strives to break barriers between organizations and their local communities to ensure that preservation and research exist in a co-productive and relationship centered way.

In addition to direct collection and preservation, Invisible Histories is invested in providing scholars with direct access to materials as well as creating a network of people conducting LGBTQ Southern archiving, preservation, education and research to make scholarship more accessible. They focus on providing education around the Queer and Trans South to those within and outside the region through speaking, exhibiting, online materials, and publications. Finally, Invisible Histories seeks to help develop a new generation of scholars working in the Queer South as well as work alongside other professionals in the field to develop best practices for this work. Currently, Invisible Histories collects in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle. As of March 2024, Invisible Histories has preserved over 140 new and unique archival collections across the Deep South.

Invisible Histories is invested in providing scholars and the community with direct access to materials, as well as creating a network of people conducting LGBTQ Southern archiving, preservation, education, and research. Invisible Histories also runs a network of individuals working formally and informally in Southern LGBTQ history and archiving, Queer History South (QHS). QHS is primarily a virtual network but also meets every two years at locations across the South for a conference that provides best practices and networking opportunities for those who attend. The most recent QHS was February 23-24, 2024 in Charlotte, NC with 180 people in attendance from across the US.

Invisible Histories is a fully incorporated 501C3 effective Oct. 12, 2016. Donors can deduct contributions that they make under IRS Section 170. IHP is listed as a public charity as determined by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States of America and has the public charity status 170 (b) (1) (A) (vi). For more information, please email [email protected].

The Mellon Foundation was founded in 1969 and is a champion of the arts, culture, and humanities. The Mellon Foundation is guided by the core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding and centers social justice in their grantmaking strategies. Mellon has an endowment of over $8 billion. In 2022 alone, they awarded over 567 grants and allocated over $547 million to support the arts and humanities.