The struggle to get LGBT history into classrooms may have had at least one adverse consequence, according to historians- that history became less accessible to the masses.
Leading LGBT historians talked about how they are working to bring history back to the community on Jan. 6. The talk, "Doing queer history in the twenty-first century," was part of the American Historical Association conference at the Sheraton Hotel downtown.
According to historians, LGBT history in Chicago had been understudied until the past few years, and those recent attempts at study sometimes failed to reach the LGBT community outside of academia.
One historian who attempted to bring that history to the public was University of Illinois at Chicago Professor John D'Emilio. In 2008, D'Emilio began publishing history columns in Windy City Times, a challenge for the professor both in terms of content and audience.
"I had a sense that I was building an audience for this history," D'Emilio said, noting that community members contributed to his work by submitting their own recollections and records. The result, said D'Emilio, was a new conversation on the evolution of LGBT rights and culture.
D'Emilio's colleague, Jennifer Brier, engaged in a similar community exchange in recent years as she co-curated the Chicago History Museum's Out in Chicago exhibit.
For Brier, the question was not just how to engage the LGBT community in presenting that history, but how to tell the story in a way that dealt with the impact of racial and economic segregation that shaped that history.
"There's just no way to tell the story of Chicago's history without grappling with that," Brier said.
In an attempt the make information more accessible, Brier and colleagues made the decision to lay out the exhibit thematically, rather than chronologically.
Northwestern Professor E. Patrick Johnson took his work out of the ivory tower by interviewing Black gay men in the South, compiling an oral history that later became Johnson's performance piece, "Pouring Tea." Johnson has toured the piece throughout the country, and it has also been used to talk about HIV/ AIDS in communities.
Finally, Marcia Gallo of the University of Nevada presented her work on pulp novelist Valerie Taylor. Gallo has published her work on OutHistory.org, a site that allows users to add and edit history articles.
Those attempts at bringing history back to the public, may more closely mirror history as it was presented to the community 30 years ago, outside of classrooms and directly in contact with those that lived it, D'Emilio suggested. But the utility of that exchange goes beyond educating the community, he said. It educates the historian as well.