MSU Libraries’ Special Collections holds treasure trove of LGBTQ+ content


Most researchers know about Michigan State University Libraries’ Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections because of the massive selection of comic books and material on radicalism. However, a growing number of people are finding their way to MSU’s libraries to visit one of the foremost collections of books, zines, ephemera and other material relating to LGBTQ+ topics.

Leslie McRoberts, head of Special Collections, emphasized the word “foremost” in describing what has become a major trove of LGBTQ+ content within the libraries.

“It’s currently the fastest-growing area of our collection. The collection of LGBTQ+ material was a natural outgrowth of the collection on radical thought, which includes everything from ‘60s antiwar material to anarchist writing and materials,” she said.

With groups like Moms for Liberty rallying for book bans across the country, often focusing on LGBTQ+ material, it’s no wonder the LGBTQ+ collection is galloping in growth. Just last week, The New York Times published an article titled “Erdogan’s Win Heightens Fears Of Homophobia,” which covered the ongoing attacks against the LGBTQ+ community in Turkey. The Times reported that in the run-up to the election, Erdogan called members of the LGBTQ+ community “deviants” and said they were “spreading like the plague.” 

I was pleasantly surprised when I stopped by MSU’s Main Library for a recent interview and was treated to my own personal pop-up exhibition of materials from the LGBTQ+ collection, including specialized tarot cards, zines, material on drag performers, books on topics like cruising, pulp fiction, a sublime Dutch broadside on homosexuality from the 1700s and miscellaneous flyers and posters.

McRoberts was joined by Dayna Topalian, another Special Collections staffer. Topalian has a deep knowledge of the collection and also creates most of the pop-up exhibits at the library. (As a side note, she recently mounted a pop-up on W.J. Beal, a noted Michigan Agricultural College plant biologist, since MSU’s W.J. Beal Botanical Garden is celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary this year.)

Topalian, who does tarot readings using the unusual LGBTQ+ cards, explained the meaning behind some of the exquisite illustrations and allowed me to pick one at random. I chose a brightly colored card somewhat reminiscent of a French Revolution scene that represents the joy of a Pride parade.

McRoberts estimates the LGBTQ+ collection is nearing 20,000 individual items, including a large assortment of items from the late Stephen O. Murray, who graduated from MSU in the early 1970s and became an anthropologist. After his death, his partner, Keelung Hong, donated $5 million to underwrite the Special Collections.

The late Anne Tracy was instrumental in starting the LGBTQ+ collection. Tracy was an early columnist for City Pulse who chronicled her battle with cancer, from which she died in 2003.

In addition to Murray’s collection, there are papers from Penny Gardner, a local labor leader, activist and former instructor in MSU’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures.

“The Gardner collection is important because it’s an example of her deep roots in the Lansing community,” McRoberts said.

You can also find records from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, held annually in Hart from 1976 to 2015, and its counterpart, Camp Trans, a gathering of transgender people and allies who stood outside the festival to protest its exclusion of transgender women.

A relatively recent acquisition was the papers of former MSU Professor Lev Raphael, which are contained in 58 boxes and cover more than 40 years of the author’s writing. Raphael is the author of 17 books that delve deep into Jewish life and the gay community.

“He’s a gay man writing about Jewish issues in a fictional context. His Nicholas Hoffman mysteries also cross over into the mainstream genres,” McRoberts said.

What makes the Special Collections unique, in addition to its content, is its availability to the public since many research collections are restricted to academic research.

“Everyone can use it. We’ve never denied access to the collection,” McRoberts said. 

However, visitors must request to view specific documents five days in advance and can’t roam the stacks, which isn’t allowed in research institutions. The best way to find what you’re looking for is by searching the Special Collections website,

The MSU Archives also has an extensive collection of LGBTQ+-related material, which can be found at

McRoberts is proud that the collections contain “items you will find nowhere else.” 

“It’s important to note that the Special Collections is named after a gay couple who wrote and traveled extensively, and it recognizes their life and love,” she said.


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