NNAQH ▰ Blog: The Finnish Labour Archives – The formation of the queer archival collections

Several issues of the journal Prätkäposti.
Material received during the recent campaign “Save the LGBTQ history” in 2023. Photo: Iris Olavinen.

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The Finnish Labour Archives – The formation of the queer archival collections

28 September 2023 | Written by Iris Olavinen.
Olavinen works as an archivist at the Finnish Labour Archives. She manages the private archival collections. She is the board member of The Friends of the Queer History Association in Finland.

The formation of the queer archival collections of The Finnish Labour Archives from 2002 till 2023 and what the social democratic movement and queer communities have in common.

The Finnish Labour Archives have together with The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas been collecting and preserving queer history for twenty years. The decision to widen the collections of the Finnish Labour Archives, to include the materials and heritage of LGBTQ communities was made in 2002. The push into this direction came from the researchers. By that time it was almost impossible to find any traces of LGBTQ communities in archives. The material seemed to be hidden and scattered. Around the same time The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas decided to begin collecting museum objects of LGBTQ communities to their collections. Since then, The Labour Archives and Werstas have shared responsibility to collect and receive the heritage of these minorities and their societies from different kinds of paper documents, digital and audio visual materials to museum objects.

Our queer archival collections include several different categories – the oral history collections being one.

Oral history collections

From 2005 on The Labour Archives’s section “the Commission of Finnish Labour Tradition'' has collected, received and made available oral history of the LGBTQ people. Our oral history collections contain interviews and written memoirs. The first questionnaire and project for queer subjects in 2005, “Näkymättömästä näkyväksi '' / “From invisible to visible”, was made in collaboration with the Labour Museum Werstas and the national association LGBTI Rights in Finland, Seta. Since the first one, we have launched two more oral history collections. “Unohtumattomat hetket” / “The Unforgettable moments'' in 2018 with Tuula Juvonen, and our most recent “Sateenkaariaineistot talteen'' / “Save the LGBTQ history” campaign in 2022 - 2023 have covered the collecting of queer life stories of individual people, too. Also, we have received some other queer oral history material from research projects that are waiting for archival treatment, cataloging etc. At the moment we are planning a couple of collaboration projects for collecting different kinds of queer memoirs.

For researchers, the best way to find these interviews and memoirs is to send a message to our customer service and specify what they are looking for.

It should be mentioned that the first oral history material in relation to LGBTIQ in Finland is from 1993 , the "Homoseksuaalisuus'' questionnaire, and was collected and conserved by the Finnish Literature Society SKS. But it wasn't until the first years of this millennium that oral history material started to be collected on this topic on a more regular basis in Finland.

Find collections of queer societies, research and private people

Besides queer oral history, you can find via our databases the catalogs of queer societies, like LGBTI Rights in Finland, Seta (formed in 1974, note that homosexual relations were illegal in Finland until 1971) and some of its regional member organizations (Helsinki, Pirkanmaa, Turku), time span being from the 1970s to the beginning of the 21st century. Also some material from Trasek, an organization for trans communities, a collection of the student organization “Opiskelijahomot ja -lesbot” and an academic collection of “Homo-, lesbo- ja queer-tutkimus” / “Lesbian, gay and queer research” can be found. Most of the personal archival collections we have received only during last spring, so these are still waiting to be arranged and cataloged. You can search the catalogs here.

Note that only a fraction of our queer photos is digitized, but e.g. the catalogue of the photo collection of Seta's magazines can be studied in our archives. Search digitized photos here and use keywords like Seta, seksuaalivähemmistöt, sukupuolivähemmistöt, lesbot, homot.

Save the LGBTQ history

The Labour Archives’ recent campaign “Sateenkaariaineistot talteen” / “Save the LGBTQ history” was launched in August 2022. The collections have been increasing by donations of individuals and associations and they consist of interviews, diaries, minutes, letters, bulletins, flyers and posters, photos, videos of events and so on. Some materials are in digital and some in analogous or paper format, timespan being several decades. These donations are a great addition to the growing queer archival collection of The Labour Archives and in service for the future researchers and the members of the queer communities to investigate their own history.

The majority of our archival queer collections are in Finnish. Recently we have received e.g. some oral history material in Swedish from Finland-Swedish communities and some copied correspondence between Finnish sexual minorities and RFSL, The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights from 1950s to 1970s.

The roots and values of the Labour Archives and archival collections of minorities

The Labour Archives (founded in 1909 at the party conference of The Social Democratic Party) is the oldest social movement archive in Finland. It has been preserving and making available records of social democratic political organizations, trade union movement and private individuals involved in the labour movement.

The social democratic labour movement carries the values of freedom, democracy and equality. Consequently, it seems fitting that some societal minorities and their human rights associations have found a safe place to conserve their heritage here at the Labour Archives. Alongside e.g. LGBTI Rights in Finland Seta our collections include Kynnys - The Threshold Association, which is a cross-disability organization focusing on the basic and human rights of persons with disabilities.


The Labour Archives is a supporter member of The Friends of the Queer History Association in Finland and is taking part in the NnAQH seminar Trusting queer archives in Helsinki 11th of October 2023.

Keywords: queer history, queer archives, archival collections, human rights, minorities