Archive for LGBT History

LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums


Last year, I served as one of nearly forty advisors and contributors to an effort by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to create guidelines for museums in welcoming LGBTQ visitors and employees. Coordinated by the LGBTQ Alliance of AAM, LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums debuted in May 2016. Based on AAM’s Standards of Excellence, the guidelines provide a workbook of concrete steps for museums to take in creating community spaces where people of various sexual and gender identities feel safe and comfortable. The document also provides a glossary of vocabulary that is useful to know when doing outreach to LGBTQ communities, as well as flagging a few problematic and derogatory words that should be avoided.

Cover of the Welcoming Guidelines

Now, the AAM is planning a series of “colleague discussions” about the guidelines. Between November 6 and 9, 2017, in more than twenty locations from Washington State to Florida, museum professionals will gather to discuss the document and brainstorm about how they might put it to work in their home institutions. According to the AAM: “The goal of these local convenings is to help museum colleagues better understand how to use the Welcoming Guidelines and how they can be applied in all types of institutions. Participants will briefly discuss the goals of the Welcoming Guidelines, review the document, and work through an exercise that is relevant to their institution.”

There is no cost to attend a convening, though an RSVP is requested. You can learn more about the events, specific times and locations, and RSVP at the following information page.

Thinking about Alfred Kinsey’s Legacy


Portrait of Alfred Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey. Image courtesy of Proyecto Historiador 2, Wikimedia Commons.

A few weekends ago, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction hosted a day-long event to celebrate its seventieth anniversary. Founded by sexologist Alfred Kinsey in 1947, the institute is an independent research center located on the campus of Indiana University and continues to make insightful inroads into our understanding of human sexuality. The anniversary events provided a nice balance of exploring current research being conducted at the institute and pondering the organization’s history, particularly the legacy of its founder, author of the famed “Kinsey Reports”—officially titled Human Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Human Behavior in the Human Female (1953)—which shocked the mid-twentieth-century United States by offering a detailed study of what white Americans were actually doing sexually.

While I am not affiliated with the Kinsey Institute, I have been thinking a lot about Alfred Kinsey’s legacy lately. I am in the process of preparing a nomination to add the Alfred C. Kinsey House to the National Register of Historic Places. Part of this process involves articulating the historical significance of the person associated with the property—basically detailing the impact Kinsey had on U.S. history. In this nomination, I argue that the professor from Indiana University was significant both to the history of scientific thought and to social history.

Within the realm of science, I emphasize three of Kinsey’s contributions, which changed scientific understanding of sexuality:

  • His team’s methodology, which went far beyond anything previously undertaken in the field of sexology, entailing live interviews with over 18,000 people from a range of backgrounds;
  • His argument that what was then seen as sexually deviant behavior (same-sex sexual behavior, masturbation, premarital sexual activity, for example) was in fact commonactivities that represented simple variation within the human species;
  • His introduction of the Kinsey Scale as a means of understanding human sexual identity on a spectrum, rather than the rigidly binary categories of homosexual and heterosexual.

In the realm of U.S. social history, I argue that Kinsey’s findings about sexual behavior in the United States created a national upheaval in moral systems that prompted some to call for a rethinking of sexual taboos—a precursor to the sexual revolution that would happen a decade after Kinsey’s study—and prompted others to perceive a crisis of moral values, which in turn triggered the retrenchment of conservative family ideals in the 1950s. For LGBTQ individuals, Kinsey’s findings offered evidence that sexual and gender variance were more common than previously thought, and this news inspired people to seek others who shared their desires. The result was both burgeoning LGBTQ subcultures and the start of a nascent political movement (known as the homophile movement).
This National Register nomination is currently under review, and some of its arguments for Kinsey’s significance may change during the revision period. For now, though, these thoughts are a quick summary of what I see as the nature of Alfred Kinsey’s legacy on American sexual thought.

Planning for Stonewall National Monument is Under Way


2006 picture of the Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn, 2006. Image courtesy of Deirdre, Wikimedia Commons.

On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising a National Monument, making it the first unit of the National Park Service dedicated primarily to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) history.

Planning is now officially under way at the Stonewall National Monument, located in Greenwich Village, New York City. One of the first tasks is to create what’s known as a “Foundation Document,” which will serve as the major building block of the park’s development. The National Park Service is currently seeking public input as it begins this process, and the agency is accepting comments through October 26, 2017. This flyer gives more detail on how to submit comments: StonewallNM_PublicComment_Announcement.

A "Raided Premises" sign from the Stonewall Uprising, now located inside the Stonewall Inn, 2016. Image courtesy of Rhododentrites, Wikimedia Commons.

A “Raided Premises” sign from the Stonewall Uprising, now located inside the Stonewall Inn, 2016. Image courtesy of Rhododentrites, Wikimedia Commons.

In a related effort, thanks to the generous support of the National Park Foundation, I am currently working with Stonewall staff to organize and facilitate a two-day roundtable exploring the historic and long-term significance of the Stonewall Uprising. We have assembled an inspiring team of LGBTQ scholars who, over the course of a few days, will work together to articulate the multiple strains of the event’s impact.

The creation of the park’s foundation document will be a many-phase process, involving multiple rounds of public input as well as an engagement with current scholarship and experts in the field. It is exciting to see the process beginning and to have the privilege of being involved.

Back in the Classroom


Last month, I took a little road trip down to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to take part in the Maymester program at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). MTSU has one of the few PhD programs in public history in the US, and Maymester provides a condensed semester (in May) that allows the program to access public history practitioners as teachers, because the abbreviated schedule fits better to real time work commitments elsewhere.

Picture of Susan Ferentinos with students

Students and I during my visit to the MTSU freedom struggles class.

MTSU Professor Louis Kyriakoudes, director of the Albert Gore Research Center, invited me to be a guest lecturer in his graduate Maymester class on “Interpreting, Archiving, and Preserving Freedom Struggles.” I commend Dr. Kyriakoudes, first, for recognizing that LGBTQ political activism falls into a larger historical trajectory of movements in support of expanded civil rights and, second, for organizing such a creative course.

The first few days began with guest lecturer Curtis Austin, author of Up Against a Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party, talking to the class about African American freedom struggles. The rest of the first week went to my visit, as I discussed the history of LGBTQ activism with students. The second week involved a field visit to various museums and archives in Atlanta, followed by a week-long digital history project the students were responsible for.

During my visit to the class, I gave the students a quick overview of the history of LGBTQ activism, and argued that scholarly writing on LGBTQ history has followed patterns that are related to various trends in the movement. I also used the recent listing of the House of the Furies on the National Register of Historic Places as a case study. The Furies Collective, which operated in Washington, DC, in the early 1970s, created much of the theory behind lesbian separatism. The historic designation of a property associated with the group marks a new phase in the government’s thinking about historical significance, and I wanted both to make the students aware of this and also to discuss with them the implications of a property associated with such radical ideas entering into a preservation program ran by the federal government.

The MTSU students did not disappoint. I am still coming to terms with how quickly LGBTQ circumstances are changing, and the subsequent ripple effects into the ways we preserve and commemorate the struggles that got us to this historical moment. So, my visit with the MTSU students was much more an exploration than a lecture. I’m happy to say that these future public history practitioners gave me a lot to think about and renewed me with their unique perspectives on the tides of political activism and the importance of the work we do to understand, preserve, and interpret these memories.

American Alliance of Museums Announces Social Media Journalists for MuseumExpo 2017


On Sunday, May 7, 2017, museum professionals from across the country will convene in St. Louis for MuseumExpo, the largest annual gathering of people working across the spectrum of museums (art, history, science, children’s, etc.). The conference is organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and offers various tracks to help attendees hone in on the information they most need; evening events provide an array of networking opportunities; and the expo hall offers a mind-boggling array of goods and services for the museum community.

The organization is piloting a new program at this year’s meeting, and has selected eleven people from across the museum profession to serve as social media journalists. I’m excited to announce that I am part of this select group, whose purpose is to build a bridge between conversations taking place at the conference and those tuning in through social media. The AAM social media journalists will also be creating a series of blog posts reflecting on these conversations once the annual meeting has concluded.

Face of the 2017 social media journalists

The theme of the 2017 conference is “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” and we social media journalists will each be exploring the ways the theme plays out in the conference presentations and events. We each bring a unique perspective to the task, having worked in a variety of museum positions and representing a range of genders, generations, ethnicities, sexual identities, and interests. For my part, I’ll be paying special attention to the theme’s implications for historical organizations and for LGBTQ and women-focused interpretation and inclusion. I will mostly be reporting via Twitter, with some additional comments via my professional Facebook page and posts on my website blog.

The event runs May 7-10, 2017. You can follow along on social media at #AAM2017 and follow the AAM social media journalists specifically at #AAMSMJ. If you’d like to follow me directly on Twitter, you can do so at @HistorySue (tweeting as myself) and @NCWHS (tweeting items relevant to interpreting women’s history, under the auspices of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites).

Find out more about the other AAM social media journalists here. And see you in St. Louis!

Upcoming Webinar with the American Association for State and Local History


Rainbow Flag painted on old wood plank background

 

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at 3:00 pm eastern time, I will be partnering with the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) to offer a ninety-minute webinar on “Interpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History at Museums and Historic Sites.” This workshop will be based on my book by the same name, which was published as part of AASLH’s series “Interpreting History.”

Since it would be difficult to condense the entire book into this format, I will be focusing the webinar on initial interpretive planning, including:

  • Deciding if the time is right for your organization to interpret LGBT history
  • Trust building
  • Approaching the sources
  • Conceptualizing your story

The webinar is $40 for AASLH members; $65 for non-members. It will include a sixty-minute real-time presentation and up to thirty minutes for questions and discussion, along with ongoing access to the webinar recording and a discount for 30 percent off the purchase of my book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. Registration remains open until the start of webinar, but registering early will help us plan appropriately.

Making LGBTQ History American History: A Public Conversation on Stonewall National Monument and Beyond


Flyer advertising the event

All the details about this talk.

In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in New York City to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement. This month, I will be moderating a public conversation with Joshua Laird and Beth Savage, who in different ways have both contributed to the preservation and recognition of this site as an important part of the history of the United States.

As a National Park Service employee working on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s, Beth Savage was involved in the nomination of the Stonewall Inn to the National Register, which made it the first property related to LGBTQ history to receive this federal recognition. Now, nearly twenty years later, the site has become a part of the National Park Service, and Joshua Laird, as Commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, oversees the stewardship of this historic site. During our public discussion, I will be interviewing the speakers about their experiences with this landmark historic site as well as the changes they’ve observed in the public’s understanding of what constitutes the national past. We will then welcome audience members to ask their own questions and participate in the conversation.

The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 21, 2017 at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis. The talk is free and open to the public, and will also serve as the plenary event of the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting. If you are unable to make it in person, you can follow along on Twitter at #ncph2017 #plenary.

For more on the designation of Stonewall as a national monument, watch the video below.

 

“Interpreting the Queer Past” at Mathers Museum, March 3


I will be giving a talk entitled “Interpreting the Queer Past” at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures on Friday, March 3, 2017 from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. The Mathers Museum is located in Bloomington, Indiana, my home base, which makes this talk especially exciting for me, since it’s been a number of years since I gave a talk in my own town.

“Interpreting the Queer Past” is aimed primarily at a general audience, with a little content that will be most relevant to other museum professionals. I will offer a snapshot of the various ways museums are introducing LGBTQ stories into their programming, then consider what we can learn from these efforts as museums move forward with this topic. There will be plenty of time for discussion as well.

If you do make it to the talk, please come up afterward and say hello!

 

Poster for the talk

Special Guests a Priority at Van Abbemuseum


Photo of the Van Abbemseum

The Van Abbemuseum, photo by Maurizio Pesce.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Van Abbemuseum, a contemporary art museum in Eindhoven, Netherlands. My talk was part of a larger day-long symposium on “Special Guests,” and the audience was comprised of museum professionals from across the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

Explanation of the “Qwearing the Collection” program at the Van Abbemuseum.

It is fitting that the Van Abbemuseum should be the host for this kind of event, as they have made a consistent effort to welcome a range of visitors, who may or may not experience the museum in the usual ways. I first heard about this museum because of their “Unforgettable Van Abbe” program aimed at people with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the facility is equipped with a robot that provides access to the museum for visitors who are homebound.

The museum welcomes others as well. Near the entrance desk, there is a “Toolshop” where visitors can select various means “that offer a new perspective on the exhibition.” Tools include “hearable architecture,” “inhaling art,” and “the collection through kids’ eyes.” Another tool is the Van Abbe’s “Qwearing the Collection” program, where guests are invited to wear clothing that provides a queer interpretation of the art under view, as well as a queer glossary of terms that visitors may not already be familiar with.

I fully embraced “Qwearing the Collection,” because it provides a two-fold glimpse into queer experience. The program most obviously does this by interpreting part of the collection with a queer eye, pointing out the subtle critiques of normative gender roles and sexual expression that might normally escape the average visitor’s notice.

Me, sporting my queer interpretive kimono, Van Abbemuseum

The program also queers the visitor experience by allowing folks to encode themselves in queer and flamboyant ways. Although I don’t normally “read” as LGBTQ to strangers, at the Van Abbemuseum I was able to swish around the collection in a “Qwearing the Collection” kimono and bright yellow scarf. Those who did not know about the program just thought I was odd; those who did know about the program understood that, by wearing these accessories, I was signaling my interest in a queer point of view. This led to numerous conversations with strangers and a special-club nod across a gallery from another visitor wearing this program’s accoutrements. In this way, the “Qwearing the Collection” props mimicked the experience of being part of a semi-secret subculture, where members adjust their appearance in ways that may not be understood by mainstream society, but serves as a signal for others who identity with the same subculture that you are friend, not foe. Brilliant!

My time at the Van Abbe, along with the other innovative museums I visited while in the Netherlands, were a breath of fresh air for me, providing so many new ideas on museum practice. I look forward to pondering my experience further and applying what I learned in the Netherlands to my projects here in the states and elsewhere.

 

Government Report on LGBTQ History


lgbtqcover_sm_3In October, the National Park Service released what may be the first federal report on the history of LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer America was funded by the Gill Foundation and completed under the auspices of the National Park Foundation. Its purpose is to provide cultural resource managers and historic preservation professionals a framework for understanding this history and guidelines for identifying and preserving historic properties related to these experiences.

I am honored to be a co-author of this groundbreaking work, contributing the chapter on “Interpreting LGBTQ Historic Sites.

The LGBTQ Theme Study is part of a larger park service initiative to “tell all Americans’ stories,” which has involved a variety of efforts to preserve and interpret sites related to underrepresented communities within the U.S. A summary of the agency’s efforts in regard to LGBTQ history is available here.

In addition to the theme study, the park service has also recognized multiple properties related to LGBTQ history, designating them as National Historic Landmarks or adding them to the National Register of Historic Places. The agency is also partnering with HistoryPin to gather crowdsourced information on additional LGBTQ historic sites.

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The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U. S. Government.

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