We are People, We Have Buttons

By Audriannah Horne and Talon Martin

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Buttons and pins” by various donors, ca. 1960-present, from GLBT Historical Society (Queeriosities Art and Artifacts Collection).

The buttons shown above are a collection of messages advocating for various queer groups throughout history. These buttons were made and worn by people fighting for the rights of themselves and their communities. We are two people who like to collect and wear buttons, and understand that they have a place as a form of wearable activism. In making this exhibit (a journey to find and appreciate as many buttons as possible from feminist archives), we’ve focused predominantly on the trans and non-binary community. Our spotlight also includes buttons that represent the LGBTQIA+ community at large. Through the sharing of these buttons, we hope to communicate the importance of respecting pronouns, supporting queer communities, and having pride in one’s authentic self.

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transphobia SUCKS (and not in a good way)” by Planned Parenthood Toronto, 1977 to circa 2010, from Digital Transgender Archive (The ArQuives), Copyright undetermined.

Historically, and especially as we write this in 2022, trans kids and adults face discrimination in all facets of their lives. One example is the many laws that are currently being passed in the US that are harmful to them because they deny their humanity. However, transphobia is not just an issue within the US, as we see through this green button from Toronto, Canada. Planned Parenthood produced this “transphobia SUCKS” button not to be quirky but because transphobia is a very real and worldwide issue that plagues trans people and everyone that loves them.

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Someone I Love is Trans*” from Digital Transgender Archive (Joseph A. Labadie Collection, University of Michigan), Copyright undetermined.

On the topic of love, this “Someone I Heart is Trans” button reminds us that trans individuals are deserving of love and undoubtedly have people that love them. Like anyone else on Earth, like you and I, every trans person has people behind them that would feel a devastating impact were something to happen to them. The way we treat trans people has a real effect on them and their loved ones. As we will discuss below, language is powerful and the words we use every day to refer to people matters a lot more than we might think.

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I'm Living an "And" Life in an "Either/Or" World Pin” by Dan Kaufman Graphics, from Digital Transgender Archive (Joseph A. Labadie Collection, University of Michigan), No known copyright.

How we address people is critical because at the end of the day it is all about respect, and everyone deserves respect as part of their right to be their authentic selves. This purple button created by Dan Kaufman graphics serves to highlight those who live outside of certain limiting categories that the world or society has predetermined. These categories limit people’s ability to be their authentic selves without the fear of being stripped of their humanity.

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They/Them Pronoun Button by Gender Justice League” by Gender Justice League, ca. 2015, CC BY-NC 4.0. From the Feminist Community Archive of Washington. A button created by the Gender Justice League to address the concern around using proper pronouns for trans and gender diverse individuals.

One form this concept takes is the existence of nonbinary and gender non-conforming people, who do not fit strictly into the “man” or “woman” categories of gender that we use every day. The “They/Them” button shown to the left presents a set of pronouns used by people who deserve respect to be addressed in the way that captures who they are.

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Genderfree Washrooms Now!” by FtM Safer Shelter Research Project, 1977 to circa 2010, from Digital Transgender Archive. Gender non conforming activism.

Nonbinary people are continuously left out of spaces in private and public spheres of society. They are left out of sports, schools, media, and all levels of institutions and corporations. Their erasure and lack of real visibility is so prevalent that it transfers even to spaces we take for granted as a basic human right. Gender non-conforming people even need to advocate for their own restroom use as exemplified by this “GENDERFREE WASHROOMS NOW!” button. We see the manifestation of how language shapes our world through the erasure of trans and non-binary people in theory translates into physical exclusion that worsens their quality of life.

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Pride Alliance @ UW Bothell Pin” by Colin Davis, 2016, CC BY-NC 4.0.Ffrom the Feminist Community Archive of Washington. Pin presents the Pride Alliance logo, which includes a paw print that has different colorings that represent different sexualities.

As previously highlighted, gender diverse folk face multifaceted oppressions in life. Historically, they have had to create their own safe spaces and seek sanctuary in the greater LGBTQIA+ community at large. For many who are not accepted and disowned by their families, these communities serve as their chosen families. The “UWB Pride Alliance'' button yields just one example of a community formed out of necessity, specific to a college campus. This community brings together students with marginalized identities, creating a space for those in which the institution was not designed for.

By elevating these buttons, we hope to communicate that everyone is deserving of respect, love, and the right to self determination. These buttons were collected and documented because they matter. They provide a platform for oppressed communities to advocate for themselves, be proud of themselves, and demand visibility. We shared only a few with you today, but we really want you to be aware of people’s buttons; that is to say, notice any form of positive wearable activism or calls for action. When more people pay attention to buttons with messages of self advocacy or other messages for change, that is what gives them power. In addition to buttons, messages for change can be on t-shirts, hats, masks, jewelry, stickers, and countless more examples. Maybe you are even inspired to share your own message that makes the world a better place.

Here is the last artifact we want to leave you with: a collection of buttons representing hundreds of waves of activism in LGBTQIA+ communities. Assembled over many years through various donations, each button has a story to tell and collectively they embody the strength of a movement that will never give up. We hope you will listen to what they have to say.

#ButtonGang

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Two wool banners covered with buttons and pins” by Michael Armanini et al., ca. 1960-present, from GLBT Historical Society (Queeriosities Art and Artifacts Collection). Two banners of purple wool adorned by hundreds of metal, enamel and plastic pins, all donated over the span of over 50 years by dozens of individual donors.

About the Curators

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Bans off our Bodies - One of Audriannah's Buttons

Audriannah Horne (she/her): I am double majoring in Society, Ethics and Human behavior & Gender, Women, and Sexualities studies at UWB. I am a Filipino American and I love buttons that stand up for and represent marginalized communities. My favorite place to showcase my buttons is on my backpack, so that anyone walking behind me gets a small window into my soul.

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Utopia Washington - One of Talon's Buttons

Talon Martin: I am a Computer Science major at UWB and an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. My fascination with buttons and enamel pins led to me co-authoring this exhibit and essay, which I hope you enjoyed or learned something from!

Citations

Our artifacts were found using the following three archives:

Feminist Community Archive of Washington

Digital Transgender Archive

GLBT Historical Society

Other references we used as hyperlinks in our essay:

Xtra Magazine

Lesley University

LGBTQ Nation