Race and Queerness: OutHistory.org’s Latest Update

This post was jointly written by Kevin Ewing and Sabine Decatur.

This summer we started an exciting project to document and make accessible chronologies of queer history. With funding from the Arcus Foundation, we established a series of interactive LGBTQ timelines that will be housed on OutHistory.org. The goal was to create an extensive yet thorough representation of LGBTQ history that pays attention to the many conversations about what it means to be queer across time, space, and culture. Coming into the project we understood it should be ever-growing, multi-narrated, and collaborative.

Yes, LGBTQ history is a broad and diverse field, and in the beginning of the summer we had some trepidation over the scope and direction of the project. We met with OutHistory.org’s co-directors Jonathan Ned Katz and Claire Potter and agreed to narrow our focus to seven sub-categories: Activism; African American; Asian; Latinx; Marriage (and Marriage Resistance); Native American; and Trans. Even the selected categories are broad in their perspective and as such we spent the summer working solely on Activism, African-American, and Trans* timelines.

Out of the many online tools available we wanted a tool that would have both a modern interface as well as make collaboration effortless. Timeline JS (TMS), an online timeline generator, did just that. TMS was developed by the Northwest University Knight Lab, and per their website are “a team of technologists and journalists working at advancing news media innovation through exploration and experimentation.” TMS can be summed up in three words: interactive, modern, and user-friendly.

In addition to doing our own research—which had us scouring through scholarly texts at the Schomburg Center for Black Research and leafing through pages of Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United Statesto start building up these histories, we invited the support from historians, scholars, activists and the general public. Our hope was that these groups could  provide important insight as well as make the timelines more comprehensive. With just the beginnings of research, though, we created introductory timelines, which can be found here. On these timelines, you’ll find dates that we feel illustrate an important historical event, represent a shift in our understanding of queerness, or represent a cultural moment. These range from protests, to legal decisions, to movie premieres, to letters between friends. While some of the events themselves might seem minor, they point to greater trends that reveal details of LGBTQ existence over time.

With this timeline project, we aim to create an ever-growing index of LGBTQ history. Queer history is so rich and deep, and the timelines will provide a platform for scholars to contribute their research and create a living representation of this important chronology.