In June 2019, the GLBT Historical Society is co-hosting an unprecedented gathering in San Francisco: the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender History’s first stand-alone conference, Queer History Conference 2019. Founded in 1979, the committee is an affiliate of the American Historical Association that promotes the study of the LGBTQ past by facilitating communication among scholars in a variety of disciplines. As the conference approaches and participants finalize their papers, History Happens dropped in for a chat with the conference co-chairs, Amy Sueyoshi of San Francisco State University and Nick Syrett of the University of Kansas. What will the Queer History Conference offer to members of the public, whether LGBTQ or not? Sueyoshi: For the nonhistorian, QHC offers a fascinating window into all the innovative work in queer history that’s going on today. Imagine it as a pupu platter, an incredibly large assortment of every and any type of queer history. And you could experience it all through ten-minute tastes, since each panel presentation typically lasts around ten minutes. These conferences are most interesting for self-identified nerds, not just because of the historical material, but also by the sheer beauty of being amongst book-loving queers who find history fascinating. Syrett: There will be about 170 different scholars making presentations on a whole range of topics. While many of them will be talking about their research, we also have panels dedicated to digital and more traditional archives projects, teaching queer history at the K–12 level and public history projects. Even the more academic panels will be talking about new research and finds in the archives and should be accessible to the general public. What can you tell us about the range of topics and approaches you’re seeing in the panel proposals? Syrett: We’re delighted that scholars are coming from all over the world for the conference and that they will be talking about LGBTQ history from all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. While a majority of the research focuses on the 20th century, we also have scholars doing research on subjects as far back as the 15th century. The list of topics includes activism; drag and other queer performers; AIDS and healthcare; religion; various identity politics (trans, lesbian, bi, poly, queer people of color); homosexuality and legal regulation; politics; film and TV representation of LGBTQ people; queer youth; families; pornography; intergenerational sex; bathhouses; BDSM; public sex; and queer beauty and leather contests. What contributions have public historians and community-based historians made to the field of LGBTQ history? Sueyoshi: Community historians and public historians are part of the vanguard making queer history visible and accessible. I’m reminded of Allan Bérubé, a community historian who wrote about gays and lesbians in the military — one of the first books on queer history that I read. More recently, public historian Megan Springate coordinated the historic LGBTQ theme study for the National Park Service. Who would have ever imagined that the NPS would ever care about queer landmarks? Syrett: Public and community-based historians have done all kinds of wonderful things for LGBTQ history. Community-based historians have done an excellent job of showing that queer history really is everywhere, not just in the big cities famous for it. Public history projects in small and midsized cities and towns have documented the queer history of all kinds of places between the two coasts. Public historians have also done so much to educate the public about queer history before Stonewall, demonstrating that there have been same-sex loving and gender nonconforming people long before the mid-twentieth century.
Mark Sawchuk is the communications manager at the GLBT Historical Society.