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American Historical Assn. conference covers LGBT issues
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2012-01-11

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From left: Amanda Littauer, Don Romesburg, Allison Miller and Nicholas Syrett at the "Queer Politics..." panel. Photo by Carrie Maxwell


A variety of panel discussions on LGBT issues took place at the 126th annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in Chicago Jan. 5-8. Academics from around the country presented papers at each panel discussion and took questions from the audience.

Amanda Littauer of Northern Illinois University moderated the panel "The Queer Politics of Managing Youth and Sex in the 1920s United States." Don Romesburg of Sonoma State University—whose paper, "Wayward Sexualities, Delinquent Mentalities and Early Twentieth-Century Youth Experts"—delved into queerness as a form of delinquency, how reformatories were used to separate delinquents from society and the surgical and non-surgical methods that were used to control supposed delinquents.

Nicholas Syrett of the University of Northern Colorado presented his paper, "Child Marriage and Contests over Non-Normative Sexuality in the 1920s." In the paper, Syrett a story to illustrate child marriages and the subsequent laws that resulted from these unions, including waiting periods for marriage licenses—which reformers hoped would eradicate child marriage altogether.

Allison Miller of Rutgers University-New Brunswick presented "Therapeutic Discipline and Queer Youth in a School for Delinquent Girls, c. 1926." In her paper, Miller detailed what happened at a reform school in California, specifically the therapeutic discipline that a girl named "Johnny" received from a staff member named Miriam.

Another panel discussion on LGBT issues centered around the book Bodies of Evidence: Queer Oral History Methods. Marcia Gallo of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas chaired the panel and the book's co-editors—Horacio N. Roque Ramirez of the University of California-Santa Barbara and Nan Alamilla Boyd of San Francisco State University—moderated the discussion. Ramirez introduced the book and spoke about the importance of oral history as a way to gain information. Ramirez also talked about his chapter of the book Sharing Queer Authorities: Transgender Latina and Gay Latino Meanings. Boyd, in her introduction of the book, spoke about the work's four parts: silence, sex, friendship and politics.

Other book contributors who spoke on the panel included Daniel Rivers of Emory University and Jason Ruiz of the University of Notre Dame. Rivers—in his paper, "Race, Class, Oral History, and the Liberation-Era Divide"—talked about lesbian and gay parenting in the pre-Stonewall era. Ruiz focused on the sexual past of his subjects in his paper, "Private Lives and Public History: Excavating the Sexual Past in Queer Oral History."

During the question-and-answer session, all of the panelists agreed that it was important to have face-to-face interactions so their subjects stayed focused and gave honest answers.

On the last day of the conference, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was discussed within the context of lessons learned from integrating minorities and women in the U.S. military. The chair of the discussion was Douglas Walter Bristol Jr. of the University of Southern Mississippi; he also presented his paper, "Making Integration Work: Group Identity, African-American G.I.'s, and Implementing the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

In his paper, Bristol says there are parallels between the repeal of DADT and the integration of African-Americans into the military, including the fact that "bad policies create tensions between being a member of a minority group and being a member of the military" and one needs to be "mindful of the generation gap" in military ranks.

David Hall of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network outlined the history of DADT repeal and the battles yet to come because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, nor has the Defense of Marriage Act been repealed which would allow military personnel who are in same-sex marriages to receive full benefits for their non-military spouses and children.

Tanya Roth of Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School—in her paper, "Elusive Integration: The Challenges of Integrating Women into the U.S. Military"—talked about what she said are the still pervasive sex-based limitations on women serving in combat situations. Roth also discussed continued wrongs against women, covering everything from assaults to the denial of benefits.

Lastly, Charissa Threat of Northeastern University spoke on the subject of male nurses in the military in her paper, "Does the Sex of the Practitioner Matter?: Sex Discrimination, Nursing, and the Army Nurse Corps in the 1950s." Threat detailed the nursing shortages in the 1950s and how the Korean hostilities and the emerging civil rights battles over equality re-ignited the debate about the acceptance of male nurses into the Army Nurse Corps.

See upcoming editions of WCT for more reports on AHA LGBT- and AIDS-related panel discussions.


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