Some of you may be researchers. We want OutHistory to be a place where you can share your work. As you can see from the content of the site, people are sharing their research on a wide variety of topics and in a wide variety of ways. Share your research about a place, a person, an event, an organization: if it’s about LGBT history, about men who loved men and women who loved women, or about people who crossed gender identities, we want to know.
Why LGBT History Matters, Why OutHistory.org Matters
The value of recovering LGBT U.S. history is illustrated by a number of striking examples.
1. The historians' brief in Lawrence v. Texas, and the historical evidence and arguments presented, played a major role in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. Likewise, historian’s briefs in Obergefell v. Hodges played an influential role in the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
2. In the 1980s Allan Berube traveled the country with a slide show about LGBT people fighting as soldiers in World War II. In 1990, his book Coming Out Under Fire was published. His historical research brought out veterans whose organizing led to the gays-in-the-military debates of 1993, and, finally, to the end of the U.S. military's anti-homosexual policy in 2011.
3. After California passed the FAIR Education Act in 2011, requiring the teaching of LGBT history in public schools, both supporters and opponents recognized the action as profoundly important. Teach LGBT history widely, each side knew, and the consequences for the future will be immense.
4. In 2014 the U.S. National Park Service launched an "LGBT Heritage Initiative" to identify sites associated with LGBT U.S. history. This theme study will provide a preservation roadmap for both National Historic Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places.
5. Recent, prominent, references by U.S. presidents to LGBT people makes LGBT rights an issue of national concern, a development unthinkable just two decades ago. All Americans are now called upon to understand President Obama's comment, in his 2013 re-inaugural speech: the moral principle all are created equal "guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall."
6. In 1957 Franklin Kameny, because of his homosexuality, was dismissed from his job as an astronomer in the U.S. Army's Map Service. This lead, in the 1960s, to Kameny's spearheading a new militancy in the homosexual rights movement. LGBT activists in Washington, D.C. have used Kameny's history to win recognition of his work from major institutions -- the Library of Congress and Smithsonian, among them. These history activists also extracted a formal apology from the federal government for the wrongs done Kameny.
7. The discovery that attorney John William Sterling lived with, slept with, and maintained an intimate relationship with James Orville Bloss for more than forty years revealed a new side of Yale University's early major donor, whose name adorns Sterling Library and many Yale institutions. The revelation of this previously unknown history is playing an encouraging role in the organizing of LGBT people within the present Shearman Sterling law firm.
8. One of the earliest modern examples of substantial research on LGBT history began for a documentary play compiled and written by Jonathan Ned Katz, and produced by the Gay Activists Alliance, in New York, in 1972. So the work of recovering LGBT peoples' past arose directly out of the modern gay liberation movement. The recovery of LGBT history remains today an important form of public service, education, and activism.
Despite the above examples the history of LGBT people remains unknown to most Americans, including most LGBT people. This continued marginalization is unfortunate because LGBT history has the power to inspire and change people, whatever their identity or outlook. Histories of people in the past open hearts and minds.
Knowing about past persecution is a goad to present activism. Knowing about past resistance to discrimination encourages resistance to discrimination in the present. Knowing how much has changed shows that substantial change is possible -- that today’s work to create change can make a substantially better future for LGBT people. History mobilizes people. It is a tool for change.
History bonds a community. It builds a sense of being a people. It instills pride and confidence, and offers a sense of belonging. Nations, ethnic groups, racial groups, and religions all pass their history down through the generations, and use it to create solidarity. Providing LGBT people with their previously unknown past profoundly deepens their understanding of themselves – it counters the often banal, superficial stereotypes of LGBT people that appear in much of the media.
Why OutHistory.org Matters
As the major website on LGBT American history OutHistory.org reaches out, beyond academia, into homes around the nation and even the world, and connects with otherwise isolated LGBT people. OutHistory reaches distressed LGBT teens, and lonely LGBT elders, telling them they're not alone, and informing them of an inspiring past.
By distributing new, accurate information about the LGBT past OutHistory effects the consciousness of present activists, and informs their work to rectify existing discrimination. Knowledge of the past shapes how LGBT activists think about themselves as individuals and as a group.
Knowledge of LGBT history provides evidence of past oppression that suggests new avenues for current activist protest. For example, research published on OutHistory documents Father Junipero Serra’s punishment of two Native American men for “abominable vice,” in California, around 1777. This history received new attention on the Web when Pope Francis made Father Serra a Saint. OutHistory points out links between past events and current events of relevance to LGBT political campaigns. OutHistory makes the past relevant to the present.
Since it went online in 2008, OutHistory.org has published substantial, original research on the formerly hidden LGBT past:
• OutHistory published a previously lost manuscript autobiography by the transgender Earl Lind/Jennie June/Ralph Werther, dating to 1921.
• OutHistory published Alan Bernstein's previously unknown, 149 page defense of homosexuality, written in 1940, and a detailed biography of Bernstein.
• OutHistory published an original essay: “James Baldwin and the FBI: “Isn’t Baldwin That Well Known Pervert” (the quote’s written by J. Edgar Hoover on Baldwin’s file)
• The original research OutHistory published on John William Sterling and James Orville Bloss inspired a group of four volunteers to undertake a huge amount of additional research in Sterling’s diaries, and to put this research on OutHistory.
The site has published original historical essays by Claire Bond Potter, John D'Emilio, Jen Manion, Joan Nestle, Hunter O'Hara, Pauline Park, Randall Sell, Rich Wilson, and other researchers.
Future OutHistory Projects
Since its debut in 2008, OutHistory has achieved a great deal, almost entirely with volunteer labor. In the future, OutHistory hopes to form a board of advisers to help with fundraising, hire a director, pay researchers, and publish new historical content relevant to current LGBT concerns. The redesign of the site to make it much easier to create content is a priority of its founder, Jonathan Ned Katz.
1. In October 2014 OutHistory directors Katz and Potter were part of the team that won a grant from the National Park Service to Support Diversity in the National Register of Historic Places. The grant will support a survey and the documenting of LGBT historic and cultural sites in New York City.
2. In August 2014 Claire Bond Potter was informed that the The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation approved a grant to support OutHistory's “United States of AIDS” project. The history of the activist response to AIDS will be presented in a module that high school and college teachers can easily integrate into U.S. history courses. The module will tie AIDS activism to major themes in American history such as freedom, justice, government, power and community.
3. The teaching of LGBT history in the nations' schools and the necessary curriculum reform is now a key LGBT organizing issue. Outhistory plans to cooperate with other organizations in making quality LGBT history research available in the nation's classrooms. As a website directed by historians OutHistory will seek funds to make reliable information about LGBT U.S. history available for integration into the U.S. history curriculum.
4. So much information is now available on U.S. LGBTQ history that it is difficult for an individual to take in what is known and in what time periods there are great gaps in knownledge. One of the main functions of OutHistory is agglomerative, to broadly identify what is known and where great gaps exist in knowledge of the LGBTQ U.S. past. OutHistory is seeking funding specifically to create a feature and function providing an overview of the known and unknown.
OutHistory.org: Basic Information
OutHistory debuted in October 2008. The site is an official non-profit project of The Fund for the City of New York and receives donations through that organization.
OutHistory now receives institutional support and the administrative help of student interns at The New School Digital Humanities Initiative, The New School for Public Engagement. The site was formerly a project of The Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and the University of Illinois, Chicago, History Department.
OutHistory’s current co-directors are John D’Emilio, Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Illinois, Chicago; Jonathan Ned Katz, Independent Scholar and Author; and Clair Bond Potter, Professor of History, New School for Public Engagement.
OutHistory is grateful to the Arcus Foundation for two substantial grants which funded the site’s original design, an assistant to the volunteer director, and the production of the site’s first content. The site was redesigned with discretionary funds provided by Professor D’Emilio while at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
April 8, 2016 1:07 pm EST