LAWRENCE – Although lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have influenced U.S. history from the beginning, the term “LGBT” is relatively recent. With increased awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community in the U.S., the challenge of placing the community’s history into the context of the American narrative arises.
In an effort to expand representation of minority groups in U.S. history, the Department of the Interior is working to include the LGBT community in U.S. historical landmarks.
Katie Batza, recently hired assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas, was one of 16 scholars invited to participate in the national collaboration regarding the LGBT historic site project. The event took place June 10 in Washington, D.C., and included roundtable discussions and a public panel Q&A.
“Our notion as a country of American history, it’s not complete as it is for many, many reasons. And one of the reasons is that it doesn’t include discussion of sexuality,” Batza said. “It’s really important for us to understand why the major changes that are happening right now with our laws and society are such incredible benchmarks of civil rights.”
The National Park Service, part of the Department of the Interior, is conducting various heritage initiatives to help identity sites and events in U.S. history that tell the story of underrepresented groups, including the LGBT community, women, Latinos, and Asians and Pacific Islanders.
The goal of the LGBT theme study is to identify key pieces of LGBT U.S. history to incorporate into new and existing historic sites and programs. Batza said there are several challenges in identifying these sites and events.
“The LGBTQ community is one of the most diverse minorities because it’s got all these other groups within it, so it’s finding ways where language and themes and notions of history are inclusive of all different kinds of people,” Batza said.
Batza said people relevant to this theme study throughout history may not have identified as gay or lesbian or may have hidden their sexuality. That’s where research comes in; the burden of proof for designating sites will rely heavily on intensive historical research.
Batza’s research focuses on the history of gay and lesbian health activism and issues in the 1960s and 1970s. Batza said that health has featured prominently throughout the history of the LGBT community, affecting the diverse group in many complex ways.
According to Batza, the goal is for the theme study project to be completed by the end of 2015. Until then, she and some of the other scholars will continue collaborating and offering insight for the theme study. Additionally, there will be work to identify existing national landmarks and places that could be considered LGBT-significant while identifying new sites as well. Batza said a long-term goal is the creation of a LGBT-heritage phone app or other web-based medium to make information about the designated sites easily accessible to the public.
“There are so many different ways in which you can engage this project,” Batza said. “A number of us are trying to think about, ‘OK, how can we incorporate LGBTQ site studies into our class curriculum as a way to apply our scholarship in the classroom and in the community?’”
The Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.