As part of our Reframing the Conversation series, in celebration of LGBTQIA+ History Month, we took a look back at the queer legacy in Utah. Prominent University of Utah leaders and activists (past and present) discussed their journeys to make the U more inclusive and acknowledged where we are today and what remains to be done.
Each month, Reframing the Conversation brings together experts from across campus and the community to spark important conversations around racism, othering and safety. The next event on Nov. 11 will be titled, “How is disability included in diversity?” Learn more and register to attend here.
Oct. 14 event transcript:
Lori McDonald: Hello! I’m Lori McDonald, Vice President for Student Affairs, and it is my honor to welcome everyone on behalf of Student Affairs and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to the second monthly installment for this academic year of Reframing the Conversation. It is here where we address contemporary subjects affecting today’s campus and the community at large.
Before we begin our discussion today, I’m pleased to share with you the university’s recently adopted Indigenous Land Acknowledgement:
The University of Utah has both historical and contemporary relationships with Indigenous peoples. Given that the Salt Lake Valley has always been a gathering place for Indigenous peoples, we acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes and is a crossroad for Indigenous peoples. The University of Utah recognizes the enduring relationships between many Indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We are grateful for the territory upon which we gather today; we respect Utah’s Indigenous peoples, the original stewards of this land; and we value the sovereign relationships that exist between tribal governments, state governments, and the federal government. Today, approximately 60,000 American Indian and Alaskan Native peoples live in Utah. As a state institution, the University of Utah is committed to serving Native communities throughout Utah in partnership with Native Nations and our Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.
In celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, we are very proud to look back at the queer legacy in Utah. We are very fortunate to have a distinguished panel consisting of some of the most prominent leaders and activists that have helped move the state of Utah and the university to be more inclusive. While this work is far from complete, we want to celebrate the journey — from where we have come, where we are today and talk about the road that remains to be traveled.
I’d like to thank our partners from the School for Cultural and Social Transformation for co-sponsoring this installment of Reframing the Conversation and KRCL. Now, I’m going to introduce our moderator for today’s discussion: Dr. Kathryn Bond Stockton, dean of the School of Cultural and Social Transformation.
Kathryn Bond Stockton is a distinguished professor of English, former associate vice president for Equity and Diversity and the inaugural dean of the School of Cultural and Social Transformation at the University of Utah where she teaches queer theory, theories of race and 20th-century literature and film. Two of her books, Beautiful Bottom Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer” and The Queer Child (Duke UP), were national finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards in LGBT studies. Her newest book is entitled Making Out by NYU Press in 2019. Stockton has taught at Cornell University School of Criticism and Theory, and in 2013, she was awarded the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence — the highest honor granted by the University of Utah.
Thank you Dr. Stockton.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Thank you, Lori. Thank you so much for the introduction, and hey everybody, so glad you’re here and looking forward to engaging with you in this conversation! And I really do want to say, thank you, Eunice and Pamela. You have been a dream to work with. I just want to thank you for finding each one of us for this panel and gathering us together. There’s been such pleasure in our connection with each other — even though I think we need about fifty people on this panel at the very least to cover everything.
I also want to say a big shout out to the Black Cultural Center. Yesterday they did a special feature on Black queer studies, and our wonderful Transform colleague, Dr. Darius Bost, was leading that conversation, so hopefully you have the pleasure of joining yesterday as well.
So very a rich week, it seems to me.
I do want to say that the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, as you may know, is comprised of the Division of Ethnic Studies, the Division of Gender Studies and the Disability Studies Program.
All right, so a few housekeeping items that Eunice has helped me out with here:
Please add your questions in the Q&A box, all right? That’s where they should appear, and believe it or not, any unanswered questions we will be answering and sending back in a recap email. We won’t be following up with the chat discussions, so don’t but the questions there. All right, I’m going to introduce our panelists:
Clare Lemke. Dr. Clare Lemke came to the University of Utah in 2019 from Iowa State University where she served as assistant director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success. Clare has a Ph.D. in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University where her research focused on the history of sexuality LGBTQ social movements, US-based feminist movements and queer femininities. She is committed to fostering a university community that celebrates queer and trans histories, cultures and lives. She is our current director of the LGBT Resource Center.
Ariel Malan. Ariel earned a master’s degree in health care administration from the U in 2018. For over a decade, her passion has been working with LGBTQ+ communities through advocacy, education and research. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Utah Pride Center and is the program coordinator for University of Utah Transgender Health Program. In that role, she leads strategy development, coordinates community outreach events and does university-wide education on the topic of transgender health and gender diversity.
Connell O’Donovan. Connell O’Donovan is a historian, biographer, and professional genealogist. His main areas of historical research include African-American history in early Massachusetts and LGBTIQ history. He is currently working on the history of female impersonators in Utah from the 1860s to the 1930s, as well as a film documentary on the double-suicide of two young Mormon Lesbians in Salt Lake City in 1926.
Elizabeth Alice Clement. Professor Elizabeth Clement’s first book is titled Love For Sale and won the Dixon Ryan Fox Prize from the New York State Historical Society. She got two book projects she’s currently working on. The first, We Are Family: Gays and Lesbians and the American Family, and the second is part of an effort to create an archival collection on HIV/AIDS in Utah, is titled AIDS and the Silent Majority: Family, Religion and Care in Conservative America.
Kai Medina-Martinez. Dr. Kai Medina-Martinez has recently joined Boise State University in 2020 and is currently an assistant clinical professor in the School of Social Work there. Dr. Medina-Martinez received a Masters in Social Work and a Ph.D. both from the U. Before joining Boise State, Dr. Medina-Martinez was an assistant professor in the social work department at California State University Monterey Bay and — hopefully you remember — served as our inaugural director of the LGBT Resource Center here at the U. Dr. Medina-Martinez scholarship looks at trans queer academics and students experiences, social work field education and college student development. They have more than 25 years of social justice informed social work practice with individuals and communities. Welcome back, Kai! It is awesome to have you here.
Okay, let’s get started. I want to say that these questions are very much a collective effort, so we together put these questions before you. I’m going to be the asker, but everybody’s going to answer. And I just want to begin by saying I think we all share a strong sense that our answers are dramatically shaped by the students, staff and community members who have so deeply schooled each one of us. In fact, many of you who have schooled us are probably here at this webinar.
So question one, we’re here to talk queer history — Utah queer history in particular. Would you share with us something that strikes you personally about this history, from your own experience or from your observations (someone who’s been here for a while or someone who’s new)? You may want to compare the history of queer Utah life to national trends, and thus you may want to comment on how the religious and political conservativism of Utah has shaped issues for queer folks here. And I believe Connell has generously volunteered to begin — giving us some kind of almost ancient queer history here. Let’s see. Get us started!
Connell O’Donovan: Thank you. So, I’m gonna start with the 1930s and just go up to 1991 which is when I went away to Santa Cruz, California.
Actually, in the 20s and 30s, there was a fairly out lesbian professor at the U named Dr. Edith Chapman, and then in 1937, she moved on to UC Berkeley. But while she was a professor, she also ran a lesbian boarding house just north of Liberty Park. Then in the 30s and 40s, there was Dr. Joseph F. Smith in the theater and speech departments, but he was also the presiding patriarch to the LDS Church. He was outed in 1946 for having sex with a U of U student, and then he was released as church patriarch exiled to Hawaii. He was a fairly out professor on campus; other professors and students knew about him.
And then in 1937, there was a student named Grant Rasmussen working on his master’s thesis at the U in sociology — he later taught there briefly — but his master’s thesis is incredibly groundbreaking and it was called The Invert Personality. The word “invert” back then referred to both homosexuality and transgenderism and intersects issues. It’s a 250-page master’s thesis, and I would say a quarter to a third of it is actually his autobiography. Now he uses the pseudonym of “Claude,” but he goes into incredible depth about his own journey coming out and exploring gender issues and sexual orientation and everything. It’s just fascinating.
Then we skip forward to 1971, in May of that year, the Gay Liberation Organization was founded on campus by four students — two gay men and two lesbians — although it was still an unofficial group. This grew out of the Gay Liberation Front movement which started with Stonewall. Then in 1976, the GLO changed its name to the Gay Student Union (or GSU), and they officially registered as a student organization in an attempt to get funding from ASUU and also to get more university support — neither of that happened. In 1979, the name was changed to LGSU (Lesbian and Gay Student Union), and there was also a gay athletic association.
Then in 1983, LGSU’s executive council requested a permanent space in the student union, but they were turned down. They also tried to start a newsletter called The Salt Lake Eagle, but with no funding coming from the university or ASUU that folded. In ‘84, LGSU led a network with similar student organizations in six rounding states, and together they founded an annual traveling conference, called the Desert Mountain States Lesbian and Gay Conference — which I participated in for several years. It was fabulous, incredible. Despite repeated attempts to get ASUU funding to do AIDS education during the mid-’80s, all funding was denied by ASUU with the exception of a one-time $50 budget from ASUU.
In February 1990, we started the campaign to get sexual orientation added to the university’s non-discrimination policy. And, in fact, I want to acknowledge Dr. Kathryn Stockton: you were the third person to sign our petition! Thank you. That was an incredible eleven-month journey for all of us involved. Finally, on July 15, 1991, the Board of Trustees passed it unanimously with two abstentions. I want to acknowledge that the board of trustees at that time were all White, heterosexual men, who are Mormon — and I think all of them had served as LDS mission presidents. The fact that we had all come together (student, staff, and faculty) and very passionately and righteously so presented our case to them, they were unable to deny that. I think that’s absolutely stunning. Thank you.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Connell, thank you. I think I’m gonna go ahead next just to kind of keep our sequence going because I’m realizing we kind of have a sequence for our older history before we get to say Kai really being that inaugural director of the Center.
So, I’ll just begin by saying that I was a queer child in the 1960s in a world before Stonewall. And two things at that time defined my queerness: I felt I was a boy, and I yearned to kiss girls. So was I gay, or was I trans? There was no concept of trans that I knew. There was of course a concept of trans, but unknown to many of us, so there was no transitioning possible for me at that time. I did not know that “boy” and “girl” are racialized histories in this country. I did not know that as a White queer child. So, I became two things I do not feel I am. I became a gay girl. And I remember thinking where are these gays? If I’m going to be one, I would like to see one. I never saw one, until I went to divinity school at the age of 21. So, I never saw a live gay person before me until that time.
Fast forward now to 1987 — around the time [Connell is] leaving off — I arrived and Utah as a young professor at the age of 29. My aim is to be a missionary to the missionaries. And to the state of Utah, I am a sodomite. I break the law every single day. At the U, where I teach civil rights, mine are not protected. So for the bulk of my time on the tenure clock, there is no non-discrimination clause for gays nevermind for genderqueers, trans folks, whatever. I’m out in the classroom, I adore my students, but most students tell me they’ve never seen a gay other than me. I am at that time a sample of one for many of my students.
In 1989, I teach gay studies. In 1990, I teach queer theory but do you won’t print the title in the catalog. And one more thing about the course: given the Whiteness of my students at that time, I realized in that moment that race must be central to the teaching of queer theory, and I aim to make it so. I become part of a young group of scholars who later give birth to a category called Queer of Color Critique — a wonderful subfield. Rod Ferguson gives it its name.
Then comes the fellow who’s the university’s legislative expert in that period. So it’s the late 1990s, and he sent his secretary’s best friend to spy on my queer theory class. From her report, he sends a written memo to the university president to try to give me either censored or fired. She crossed ten lies about the class. Just to give you a little feel, she said on the first day I make everybody go round and say whether they’re gay or straight and the very first moment of the class — categories I don’t even quite believe in. She says that during the break all the students were holding hands and kissing — which were so, it wasn’t true. They kind of went on like that. Well, he didn’t succeed. I got the last laugh. He’s gone. I’m here — queerer than ever.
So, that’s where my little history now becomes, maybe, a baton pass at this point, Kai, if you don’t mind, to you as the inaugural director of our Center.
Kai Medina-Martinez: Yeah, thank you, Kathryn and Connell. Let me also say that I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Utah also, so I’ve never really left the university until I left the university. The other thing is before I attended the University, I did attend the LGSU. And we’re talking about like 1982-1983, in that area, during that time. I remember having to find out right before the meeting where it was located because it was in a secret place. It was not public knowledge, and it was usually in the Union…in a bathroom. [laughs] No, I’m just kidding about that! But it was in the Union, okay? Let me correct it, it was in OSH! OSH. Bathroom.
Come to 2007 when I was offered the position as the inaugural director of the LGBT Resource Center, the director was the only staff and it was supported by student workers. At that time, it was in a very small area, but the center actually was first opened in 2002. We’re talking about 2007, and during the time that I was there, most folx and myself identified as lesbian. But it was interesting because, you know, as I began to sort of come within my own gender identity in my own sort of — I don’t speak about my experiences as “transition” though that word was always applied to me. “When you transition…when you transition,” so it was really kind of odd for me to kind of be applied. It was interesting too as a director of the Center trying to really sort of keep pace with the students’ kind of fluid identities and to match what we were doing. But the pushback was it’s becoming a trans center; what happened to the gay or lesbian part of it? We haven’t always kept up really good with the whole aspects of fluidity of identity and so kind of sticking to these markers. In doing that, there was a lot of sort of stuff that we had to navigate.
But during that time, domestic partner benefits were provided. I think we added gender identity and expression to the non-discrimination policy, so I can go on and on about that. Then really what that the hospital started in the trans clinic up there was a big concerted effort of the entire campus community. You know, the main campus and the hospital setting, so that was a big step. Really with that came to light was, you know, physicians who were starting to be approached to do various medical procedures, and saw the need for that.
As I became in my own gender, I remember being watched from the stairwells of what bathroom I was going to go into. I caught a couple of people kind of watching to see what bathroom I was gonna go into, you know, and so um, it was really interesting. I think it was an adjustment for many folks; even to the point of being told, “you were not who you said you were when you started working here…” one of those sorts, which became the title of my dissertation!
But to look at this whole thing, it’s an effort on a lot of people’s part to get us to where we are now. And so I just really wanted to make sure that I add that in because it’s a concerted effort. It’s a collective effort.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Kai, thank you. I’m thinking maybe, Beth, given that you are writing histories and working on history if we go to you to sort of see where you dial in on this thought.
Elizabeth Alice Clement: Sure! I think one of the things that’s been interesting to me in writing about queer issues in Utah from a historical perspective is the ways in which that’s disrupted my understanding of stereotypes about Utah and queerness. You know a lot of the historiography for the twentieth-century for queerness is very focused on the coasts and on big cities. Which I think is understandable, that’s where a lot of queer people live — it’s where a lot of queer academics either live or want to live. But really distorts or understanding what’s happening nationwide for folx — including what’s happening locally for folx. One of the interesting things that I found is that Utah is actually not that out of line with other national trends around sexuality and particularly around queerness through the 1950s and ‘60s. There’s a Cold War, queer scare, pedophilia scare that happens here — it happens around the country. There’s a lot of oppression in the 1950s queers and sociability. Where things start to diverge is actually after Gay Liberation.
After Gay Liberation, you begin to see what had been a nation that was just sort of uniformly hostile to queer people begin to really diverge regionally. You start to see places like New York and San Francisco, and both cities and states, begin to liberalize in the Northeast and begin to liberalize on the west coast, and conservative places — including Utah — remain in that model of real hostility to queerness. And you see that in issues around law, right. You see that in changes around sodomy statutes and whether or not sodomy is decriminalized — which of course it never actually is here. It’s a Supreme Court decision that removed that in 2003.
And that was surprising to me; I expected the queerness of Utah to be different from the beginning. What I really saw is, no, it’s actually pretty similar. It’s really only in the 1970s that things begin to change, and even there that is a regional difference that you see so that across the country. Conservative places like the Midwest (outside of Chicago and the big cities), conservative places like the South and conservative places like the Intermountain West really are tracking in their own, together, just as liberal places are tracking together. So that, I think, was one of the most interesting things that I saw, and you see it around a range of issues in Utah local stuff. You see it in HIV/AIDS. What’s happening in HIV/AIDS in Utah is weirdly similar even to some of the stuff that’s happening in places like New York. It’s happening a little later, so that’s another thing; Utah often is lagging. But that’s actually true again of other conservative places. I think I was my most interesting takeaway from trying to sort of map what’s happening in Utah onto what we know is happening nationally — that actually Utah’s not particularly out of step that the big divergences begin to emerge in the 1970s. Even then, those divergences are really about conservative versus liberal places. Then, of course, the actions of the federal state. The actions of the Supreme Court really being the things that change things in local places.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Great, thanks so much! Now as we expected, time is flying on our panel. So I’m going to go to question two because it’s so important, and happily, Clare and Ariel were the ones that we were wanting to kick off answers to this question. So let me post the question, and then we’ll go right to Clare and Ariel to get us started.
Question two: One of the things I think we discussed as a group leading up to this conversation was the exclusion of many queer people from the queer history we are discussing — trans folx, obviously, queer and trans folx of color, non-binary queers, queer folx with disability, low wealth queer people. There have been exclusions, and there have been erasers. Where have we been and where are we now on this profound front, Clare?
Clare Lemke: Thank you. Thank you, all. What a great conversation we’ve heard. As far as where we’ve been, I’m newer to Utah. I’ve been here just shy of a couple of years, so I’ll speak less to the specific erasers or exclusions in Utah’s history because I think we’ve already heard some of them and will continue. But I can say from a perspective of queer history as a field, historically centered White people’s experiences. Part of that has been biased on the part of researchers, part of that has been a scarcity of materials about queer and trans people of color available, so maybe the case that people destroyed materials that documented their identities themselves or perhaps their families did upon their death. It can also be sometimes that racism and segregation of LGBTQ spaces, you know, and that could be legal segregation or de facto segregation meant that queer and trans people of color’s communities developed in different ways than white spaces and white communities.
One example that always comes to mind when I think about the difference that might make is Rochella Thorpe has done quite a bit of research on African-American lesbians in 1950s Detroit. Scholars of lesbian history at that time will often look to bar culture and find lots of evidence of White lesbians community building. But what Thorpe did that kind of switch that around was looked at the way that Black and African-American lesbians of that time in that city created a separate network that was based on house parties more than bars, because public space in Detroit at that time was racially segregated. But I feel like that example always comes to mind of just a great illumination of the way that it often depends on who’s looking and where they’re looking for signs of queer life in the past, and that might explain why so much of our LGBT and queer history up to this point has been very White-centered though that is beginning to change.
I think in terms of where we are now — the second part of that question — I think in a lot of ways our community is just as exclusionary as some of the examples that have been shared from the past or that will be. When we look at queer and trans spaces, they’re still fairly segregated along lines of race and class. When we look at who has access to resources or a platform to speak in our communities and people with multiple minoritized identities, the access isn’t equitable, so you’ll often find someone like myself who’s white and cisgender in leadership roles in different organizations or centers across the country, right? When I think when you look at when we talk to, for instance, students of color on our campus about different challenges or barriers they might face, I think something we hear often is a feeling of isolation of feeling of having to work harder to find and access community where they feel held and seen — often times hearing people feeling like they can either be a person of color in one space or a queer person another, but having a hard time finding where they’re holistically held.
From our standpoint — I know we’ll talk about this later — thinking about how do we start to change that on our campus and if those are the things that are kind of similar from the past, I think what’s different is that greater call for accountability. I know, for our center, this has meant working with our campus partners to create different strategies and support spaces for queer and trans students of color to find community and build leadership. It’s meant prioritizing our work through a racial justice action plan that’ll be published with our annual report publicly this year. You know, really thinking about accessibility/inaccessibility of our resources and services to a variety of students including students with disabilities or students with financial strain. So I think that, for me, is what is different is that rising call of accountability, even if some of the same dynamics are still at play.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Clare, thank you, that’s great. So Ariel, what do you see from your perspective?
Ariel Malan: Yeah, so the perspective I bring is a little bit more from the health systems perspective, so I want to talk a little bit about some of the histories that exist that lead us to the point where we are with our health system. In regards to standardized medical education on queer and trans people that has been historically very lacking. It really wasn’t until the end of 2012, that the American Psychological Association moved “gender identity disorder” and placed it with the new diagnosis of gender dysphoria. And the reason why that’s so important is because that was a turning point for many of our health care providers and medical staff to say transgender and gender diversity is not a mental illness.
Gender dysphoria is purely just the fact that people are not identifying with their gender are experiencing distress due to the way that society is treating them — so really kind of talking about that causality around society’s accountability for that. I think that has changed the way that we view queer and trans people in our health system today, and is the reason why we have the Transgender Health Program as it is today.
Even with the Transgender Health Program, we’ve really only been around the last three to five years, and getting that up and started like high had mentioned with a pretty big feat. From the perspective of a lot of the providers, we had to go to the hospital leadership several times and we were to kind of justify this and why our patients need this multidisciplinary care. So it wasn’t easy. [laughs]
Another landmark finding that kind of contributes to this was in 2014 — and this was, I mean, 2014 that was really only six years ago! Gender affirming surgery is now not being considered dangerous or experimental. This is validated by hundreds of professional and medical organizations and really contributes to the care that we actually get to provide to this point.
But until then, I think that has greatly contributed to the erasure of trans and queer people in our health systems — and especially non-binary identities. So even in our Transgender Health Program today, we still are having some very proactive conversations around how are we including those that are identifying with something more on the gender spectrum and not as a binary option, and how do we talk about our services in a way that is more fluid so that we can really accommodate all of the identities that exist within our queer and trans community?
In 2018, our electronic medical record gave us the option to actually include sexual orientation, gender identity, pronouns and an organ inventory. That was only two years ago, I keep kind of prefacing that this was not that long ago that we actually got these things kind of rolling. With that, there really hasn’t been any standardized education within our own system and even across the nation on how do we use these fields, what are they for and how does this data actually help with patients? And I think data in and of itself is how we really kind of fix the erasure problem because we’re not asking patients or people how they identify we’re not actually accurately measuring their experience in the setting that we’re serving them — whether that be on campus or in our healthcare system.
I mean, this has actually come up really recently with COVID. In that many advocates and advocacy organizations will really quite furious by the fact that the CDC was not including sexual orientation, genre identity data on their testing form, because we know that our queer and trans communities are experiencing COVID at higher rates. They are more susceptible to COVID just due to the fact that they’re working at those frontline jobs. They’re not having paid time off or even access to health care. So the fact that we know that, but we’re not measuring it really kind of just reinforces this idea that we’re never going to know what these experiences are of our queer and trans communities unless we’re asking and we’re actually putting that in our data. Until we really get to a point where it’s normalized and it’s a prioritized conversation around why the data is important, I think we will continue to see the erasure of queer and trans people specifically in healthcare settings.
But I think [legitimization] can really actually be accomplished through education and training at institutions. I am happy to say that our system here at the university has recognized this gap, and we have a system-wide community that is addressing an implementation plan to start collecting sexual orientation, gender identity data of all of our patients by 2021.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Wonderful. Now I’m gonna go to Kai. I see your being asked a question in the Q&A, so I don’t know if this is part of where you might go, but “a question primarily for Kai and Connell who mentioned being a student at the U in the ‘70s and ‘80s how did you build family (given and chosen) then? How did you navigate levels of “out”ness and different classes and spaces on campus and what was dating like? How did you find date mates?” Now there’s a cool question. So, Kai, I don’t know if you want to speak next and I don’t know if you want to dial into any of those great prompts.
Kai Medina-Martinez: Yeah, so to be completely honest with you most of my sets of community were not on campus. I started back at U full-time in 1987 as an undergraduate, and what I knew about the queer community was tied to Women’s Studies — now Gender Studies — and it’s very White. I think it continues to be White. So for me, I can’t speak of my identity without talking about the fact that I’m a person of color, okay, so I think it’s just the multi areas of that. So most of mine was off-campus, and if I did find a sense of community on campus it was folx who kind of navigated their life outside of some box. Okay, maybe not gender or sexual orientation but a box of life experiences. so those were the communities I most gravitated towards. Also going back to higher ed, there was this whole sort of tendency, this sort of patriarchal approach to things even also within the women’s studies program — a professor/student. And so I think I can’t talk to all that without talking about that sort of how those systems of privilege work. I wasn’t out as an undergraduate to everybody, but by the time I got to grad school I was. I was in Social Work, and there were not many folx out. I think, Kathryn, you were on campus at that point. Then came Gender Studies to acknowledge the fact that we’re talking about, you know, gender and kind of broaden and conversation up.
But also, I must acknowledge too is that change happens when those and power decide that it’s going to fit with something…but it’s not a lack of trying to get that changed. You know these folx who made, you know, changes on queer history nationally, but we have folks on the ground, trans women of color on the ground trying to work towards this change for many years, and then suddenly it happens it’s like, “oh this person!” But it’s been going on. It’s been happening.
That’s what I have to add to the conversation on that part.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Thank you. Connell, anything you want to add about spaces in those early crazy times.
Connell O’Donovan: I came out of the closet in ‘85 — July 4th, ‘85 — on Independence Day. Then, I wasn’t really involved in any community at all until ‘87 when I became an activist…In coming out, I lost my biological family, my very conservative LDS family. I was completely estranged from them, and I found family in an organization, that was GLCCU (Gay Lesbian Community Council of Utah). We jokingly called it “the queer senate.” There were dozens and dozens of queer organizations in Salt Lake City in the late eighties, and at GLCCU every queer organization could send three voting members to the monthly meetings. And we would set our “homosexual agenda” for whatever, and my participation in community council was my family where, you know, we came to embrace and love each other. We fought like family, but we also were able to really work together politically and make huge advances in what was happening across the state but mainly in Salt Lake County in Salt Lake City.
That was kind of a golden area for me and I miss that. Right now we have the Utah Pride Center’s executive director making a pronouncement from on high, and that’s the “community” speaking. Whereas with the Community Council, we had everyone that wanted to participate involved and giving voice to whatever we wanted to do. I miss that.
Kai Medina-Martinez: As far as dating, I’m still trying to figure out how to date. [laughs] No, I’m just kidding! But I think it’s really important because, from my experience, it’s not as easy to navigate. So I just listen to a recording of the [Human Rights Campaign] Alexandria Billings speech. She’s an actress — a trans actress — [who] talked about, you know, we make it hard in our own community to provide a sense and to help people with a sense of belonging. I think that includes dating too, because, you know, it’s not easy…to find a sense of that. I think we have to figure out how we provide those spaces and within the queer LGBT community to make it easier for people to meet each other, date each other and not so much on what you see because I think that oftentimes we make those decisions on what we see rather than getting to know really somebody’s lived experience.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Great. I’m going to make a few more, just quick comments on the questions on exclusion from a slightly different angle before we pivot to a third question and pick up another question in our Q&A box.
One thing that I want to say that really turns the tide, at least for my experience on this campus, was in the classroom. And I think Clare and Kai, you’re each alluding to this in different ways. But starting for me about ten years ago, many more students of color and out trans students started showing up in queer theory, and they, the students themselves — again some of the people on this webinar asking cool questions in the chatbox — really began to turn the tide. Of course, my heart goes out to them, because many of the folx who were first coming were experiencing again only oneness. Again, Kai, what you were talking about. Where they come to class called “Queer Theory” to get community, and what do they find? They are the only ones, again, representing a critical category of concern. I think those brave students who were first coming into these spaces, bringing new issues and, sort of, literally moving that conversation in new directions get just tremendous credit for changing circumstances on this campus.
I just want to say too, and this might be something other folx want to know, is that now we’ve got some new fabulous scholars that we’ve hired in Transform who are going to be teaching courses who are teaching courses like queer ethnic studies, critical disability studies with major queer components, queer pacific island studies. Having new faculty who will also be moved by their students in new ways will really move this.
I also want to say that it’s my strong belief, and you might disagree with me, that I don’t ever think we’ve ever had only two sexes in the history of this country and maybe still. In other words, I think one of the great falsifications is imagining that we ever had men and women in these United States because going back even to the thirteen colonies, there had often been legally and distinct categories, right? Black men, Black women, Native men, Native women, White men, White women…and even more categories and different territories of the United States. This is important for so many reasons, but for one reason is with six or more sexes there are no opposites. There can be no opposite sex. Therefore the outfit of sexual opposites — there really is no same-sex anything or really opposite sex anything. There is really no homo- or heterosexuality as we’ve configured it. So I think when we take race seriously, it messes up the neatness of our presumed categories, and that’s, again, why racialization really being understood that everybody’s gender and sexuality is really being racialized has really changed the field of queer theory and queer studies. I think we have to keep exploring those asymmetries between race and sexuality and race and gender. Again, our students are often way ahead of the professors, you know, on that front, and I think that matters greatly.
Okay, we are going to pivot to a third question, and then we’re going to pick up a question in the Q&A. So, the question here is where are we going on making new histories? So we’ve been talking about where we’ve been, a little bit about where we’re going. What do you think are the pressing issues before us, and how do you view the porous borders between, say, queer communities and then queer work, queer life, queer studies at the U?
And then picking up the question in the Q&A, we have the question “is someone documenting the impact of bias by SLC and university police departments? Are there formal efforts underway to address police biases?”
Alright. Elizabeth, I don’t know if you were going to kick off this question about where are we now?
Elizabeth Alice Clement: Sure. A couple things, one, I wanted to say something about the previous question about family formation — both families of choice and then other kinds of family formation. One of the things that is interesting is just the difficulties that people have had in having children. Which, of course, this is not something that everyone wants. But those of us who did want it, you know — the way that you responded to that — you responded to a lot of things. Which is to say that there’s a lot of sort of denial or lack of interest in allowing that.
When I moved here, the U fertility clinic was not taking lesbians or single women. There were only two people in town who were willing to do insemination for lesbians or single women. Obviously, that’s changed. The adoption law was terrible. My family had to move to California to do our adoption, and that was a co-parenting option; it wasn’t a stranger adoption. I think there’s a lot of interesting overlaps between the ways that people are constructing families of choice and the way that people are trying to construct biological or natal families, and sort of the lack of support for that both at the state level and also at the university level. The university has lagged in being able to acknowledge those things. I was just at IHC the other day with my kid, and the form asked for mother and father. And that’s unnecessary; there’s nothing wrong with the word parent. We could just ask about “parent.” I understand in a healthcare setting, you want to genetically who people are related to, but the form didn’t actually ask any of those questions. It didn’t say, “does the father have a history of cancer?” It was just literally was a form. I think that speaks to Ariel’s point as well. It’s very silly that there’s such a lag. Also that it is really a problem for data collection. And therefore what we know and what we can argue, we need to do moving forward.
In terms of moving forward historically, as Clare pointed out, we need a lot more — and Kathryn as well — we need to talk about intersectional identities and the ways in which everybody has many identities and we need to sort of think about that. So there isn’t a queer community in Utah, you know, exactly. There’s more of a White queer community and different communities of color. In Utah, we need to start talking a lot more about Whiteness and what it means and how it’s interacting with other racial identities, other sexual and gender identities, the dominant religion and its association with Whiteness. I think we need to start unpacking that.
In terms of trends nationally, in the history of sexuality, I think the most interesting developments have been just the emergence of trans studies and trans histories. And then people really starting to figure out and pick out where those histories are overlapping with what we might call gay histories. Which is to say — I love the term “queer history,” but I also think it blurs things in ways that are not always helpful — because we’re all queer, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean our experiences are similar and our histories are similar.
So figuring out where histories of trans folx are actually tracking with — where people are working together with gay folx — and where, quite honestly, people are throwing each other under the bus. There are eras in queer history where trans folx and gay folx are working together, and there are eras in queer history where trans folx and gay folx are throwing each other under the bus. So understanding that these are actually different histories that are periodically and productively overlapping is really helpful, but then also understanding where they are not overlapping and what is causing that. How can understanding that help us continue to work together as a community and continue to see ourselves as a community and advocate for not just our own identities, but for the identities of the other people in our community? That, I think, has been a big development in the history of sexuality more recently. As everybody has pointed out, making sure we understand that, you know, lesbian identity is racialized — that folx who are coming to a lesbian identity from a Latino perspective or Pacific Islander perspective are going to have different “lesbian” identities than White middle-class women. That sort of picking apart has real importance, not just because some of us enjoy history, but also history gives us lessons for what we want to do, how we want to work together, what matters when working together and how we can make change by understanding what has happened in the past.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Great. We have about five minutes left because I know that Dr. Medina-Martinez needs to get to a meeting, so if we see Kai disappear we’ll know. Somebody is asking in the chatbox if anyone could speak to the history of conversion “therapy.” When we send out the recap email, I can send you great names — Elizabeth probably can too — of people who are writing books exactly on this topic. But, to Clare and Ariel to finish off this question on the new…
Clare Lemke: Sure, so I can speak more on the direction our LGBT Resource Center is heading. We’re positioned in a leadership position on campus, to lead in this way, but I also want to enhance comments that particularly Kai and Connell made that when this kind of work happens it’s never about the figurehead. It’s never about that person who brought that one policy or one win home. There’s been many many years and networks of people behind each of those instances, so I would say that we — our office — is positioned to be in that, sort of, hyper-visible space, but there are many more people working out in constellation to us. There would have to be, right?! One office cannot be the source of cultural change on campus; it has to be a collaborative effort.
So I would say you know with that in mind for the foreseeable future how we’re really going forward at the center is having to address the long history of White supremacy in LGBTQIA+ organizing spaces. So what that means is really questioning how do we work differently — again, creating more support and more leadership opportunities in career trans students of color. Also with how we can work with White students differently in a way that enhances their racial literacy and their understanding on how their roles are perpetuating racism in our communities.
And, you know, also to points that others have made here, I don’t think that higher education as a field has really adequately addressed how we’re serving trans and non-binary students and the ways that we’re not providing equitable access to education to these students. It’s only been very recent that higher education, or student affairs as a field, has even begun to grapple with that we have these institutions — these systems — that we’re not made for trans, non-binary students that were not expecting them to be here in the first place, so we have a lot of work to do untangling that.
I will end just to say I’m really excited to be working in an LGBTQIA+ center in this historical moment, particularly because so much has come to a head that I feel, you know, business as usual in higher education is impossible. We have to ask some challenging questions ourselves as administrators or professors or leaders on campus: how are we going to change and how we can change the systems of the operate in? I think that’s a great opportunity, and I think students are really galvanized right now to keep holding us accountable to that momentum.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Thanks, Clare. Ariel, bring us home. What do you want to say about the doing of now?
Ariel Malan: I think a lot of what’s been said has been really accurate to where we are now and I appreciate that historical context from people who had actually been there. I think from the perspective of our health systems, and really more broadly, representation is going to be a critical component in how we change history. So a lot of this topic about intersectionality, are we listening to those spaces that have been historically marginalized? Are we getting them a seat at the table in order to actually be heard by leadership?
One of the things that we’re doing within our program is a patient and family advisory board. That has been something that our providers have begged for since the beginning of our program, because we absolutely understand that if we are not incorporating the voices of the patients that we’re actually serving, then we’re just assuming what they need. That’s kind of what’s historically happened for queer and trans people. We had cisgender folx and heterosexual, straight folx that are kind of assuming, you know, what our community needs.
And so we’re really excited to have that as a platform to really amplify those voices and utilize that feedback in a program and in our broader health system…I think as we get closer to bridging that gap, it’s going to become a lot more normalized as we start to say, “okay, what does that representation look like for the queer and trans people to be successful, to have a career path, to have family, to have partners.” We’re not always going to be focusing on that story of transition or coming out and it’s just going to be a lot more normalized the more we have that representation. That’s really exciting for me. I agree with Clare; being in an LGBTQ+ space on campus and really seeing a lot of the efforts that are being done collaboratively to kind of ensure that we have that representation and that we’re focusing on that within our institution.
Kathryn Bond Stockton: Really enjoyed this generational layer cake that has been baked here on this panel. Thank you to the panelists, and I’m going to throwback to VP McDonald to close us off. Thanks, Lori!
Lori McDonald: Thank you so very much for a fantastic panel. Our next Reframing the Conversation will be on November 11, and that topic will be around health and disability. For information on that upcoming event as well as a location for a recording of this wonderful panel, please see diversity.utah.edu/rtc.
Thank you. Thank you very, very much, and wishing everyone well.