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.

Reflecting on the American Alliance of Museums Conference


Image of buttons stating an individual's pronoun preference

Pronoun buttons at AAM, via @exposyourmuseum

In early May, I attended the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), serving as one of eleven designated social media journalists for the event. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion,” and the social media journalists were specifically tasked with exploring this theme.

Now, I am no stranger to conferences. I’ve been to scores of them over the course of my career, and in my experience, most annual conferences pay only cursory attention to the conference theme. But this conference was different. From the moment attendees arrived, AAM sent a message of inclusion with signs stating the conference’s open policy on bathroom use (i.e., attendees could choose to use whatever bathrooms best expressed their gender identity, no questions asked) and offering attendees the opportunity to make buttons indicating their preferences for personal pronouns.

I’d estimate that at least half of the sessions and all of the keynote events were focused on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion, exploring the topic from a range of angles including visitor experiences, community outreach, social justice work, hiring and training, leadership practices, and creating a welcoming work environment. My professional work revolves around diversity and inclusion, and yet I still found plenty of new ideas to ponder, debate, and execute.

Picture of the comment board that appeared at the conference

AAM comment board about the slave auction display, from an article at https://blooloop.com/features/aam-2017-american-museums/

About halfway through the conference, our explorations of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion veered beyond the established program when controversy erupted over a vendor display in the Expo hall. A company specializing in creating life-like figures for museum exhibitions had brought a depiction of a slave trader and enslaved person at auction to demonstrate the company’s product. Many attendees found it offensive that such an upsetting event would be displayed in a contemporary marketplace, devoid of historical context. A lively discussion erupted throughout the conference and on Twitter (see #aam2017slaveauction). AAM staff contacted the company about attendees’ concerns and soon added a comment panel related to the slave auction display, soliciting reactions from conference attendees.

On the last morning of the conference, concerned attendees convened at the company’s booth to discuss the issue with the company owner. Dina Bailey, CEO of Mountain Top Vision, LLC, stepped in to facilitate a dialogue, which–from my perspective–created a far richer exchange.

I was happy to see a dialogue about the depiction. Hopefully, all sides gained some understanding and empathy through the process, although–judging from the Twitter feed–many were left dissatisfied with the discussion. For me personally, I felt that this issue provided a real-time example of the hard work ahead if we truly hope to build understanding and create a world that honors Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in deed as well as word.

For those who want to engage further with these issues:

  • Check out the Twitter hashtag #aam2017slaveauction to learn more about various reactions to the display
  • Read Seema Rao’s blog post, “Seven Action Steps Post- #AAM2017SlaveAuction #AAM2017
  • Look through the session recordings and handouts from the conference to find materials on various aspects of the conference theme
  • Read some of Dina Bailey’s writings, which appear in larger volumes that are also relevant to the topic:
    • “The Necessity of Community Involvement: Talking about Slavery in the 21st Century,” (co-written with Richard C. Cooper) in Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites, edited by Kristin L. Gallas and James DeWolf Perry (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)
    • “Finding Inspiration Inside: Engaging Empathy to Empower Anyone,” in Fostering Empathy through Museums, edited by Elif M. Gokcigdem (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)

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

History Exhibit Opens at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater


Picture of exhibit

Exhibit opening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, February 3, 2017

Last week, an exhibit I’ve been working on for a number of years opened at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater“A Thing of Beauty and a Joy Forever”: The History of Bloomington’s Community Theater recounts the history of a nearly-century-old venue just off the downtown square in Bloomington, Indiana. Today, the building is known as the Burkirk-Chumley Theater, a six-hundred-seat performing arts venue that has played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Bloomington over the past fifteen years. Before that, the building housed the Indiana Theatre, an 1,100-seat movie palace built in 1922.

The designer and the researcher in front of an exhibit panel.

Jennifer Hottell (right) and I in front of the opening panel of our exhibit.

 

The roots of the current exhibit go back about ten years, when I conducted preliminary research into the history of the building, which is part of the Bloomington Downtown Square National Register District. From this project came a much more basic exhibit designed to answer some common questions from visitors about the history of the theater, which–after a period of decline–was renovated to reflect its 1930s heyday as part of its conversion into a contemporary performing arts hall.

A few years ago, the theater received funding from Indiana Humanities to conduct further research into two aspects of the Indiana Theatre’s past: the desegregation of the theater in the 1940s and the immigrant history represented by the Indiana Sweet Shop, a candy store housed in one of the building’s storefronts, which operated for over sixty years. The effort involved the expansion of the original history exhibit to include both the new research and more of the original research than made it into the first exhibit.

I was brought on as the project historian, performing documentary research, conducting oral histories, and creating the text for the ultimate exhibit. Jennifer Hottell, a Bloomington-based graphic designer, joined the team to reconceptualize the visual presentation of the information. The final result–incorporating my research, Jenn’s design, and oversight and input from the Buskirk-Chumley’s executive director Danielle McClelland–is a multi-media exploration of this theater, Bloomington history, and the movie palace era in general. It will be on permanent display at the Buskirk-Chumley until the theater’s hundredth anniversary in 2022.

One of the exhibit panels.

The exhibit panel discussing the theater’s desegregation.

The technology panel of the exhibit.

The exhibit panel exploring the changing technology of showing movies.

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