by Lauren Gutterman
It was my desire for queer community that ultimately led me to become a scholar of LGBTQ+ history. In the early 2000s, as a baby dyke in Chicago and then in New York City as a grad student, I was desperate to connect with LGBTQ+ folks who had come before me. This sense of disconnection from queer elders and the queer past eventually inspired my involvement in SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBTQ+ Elders. In 2005, as a SAGE “friendly volunteer” I began to visit weekly with Connie Kopelov, a longtime labor educator and historian of women’s labor organizing, then in her 80s. Connie was, like me, Midwestern and Jewish, and we had even gone to the same university as undergraduates. In the 1980s Connie became involved in LGBTQ+ activism through SAGE, and she and her wife Phyllis Siegel became the first couple to marry in New York State in 2011. In many ways, her bold and brave lesbian life laid the groundwork for my own.
This issue of QT Voices focuses on the ways LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff and community members with are coming together to strengthen our connections and record our histories. Several of the contributions focus on LGBTQ+ history at UT Austin. For the past six months, American Studies graduate student Hartlyn Hanes has been researching LGBTQ+ history at the University. Part of her archival research, about queer student organizing for non-discrimination protection in the 1980s and early 1990s, is featured here. LGBTQ+ Studies Program Director Lisa Moore provides another “deep dive” into the history of the Barbara Jordan statue on our campus. Despite congresswoman Jordan’s reticence about her sexuality and her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, Moore celebrates Jordan’s significance for queer, Black, disabled, and feminist histories.
Other contributors to this QT Voices issue draw our attention to LGBTQ+ history beyond the University. For Audio QT, Professor Karma Chávez shares an excerpt of her December 2021 interview with María Limón, an activist who helped to found allgo, the state’s longest-standing organization for LGBTQ+ people of color, and build Informe Sida, its HIV/AIDS education project. Undergraduate student Adrienne Hunter writes about her innovative senior research project, bringing together younger and older trans people to discuss and document trans histories of care and community in Austin. The conversation she traces took place between Kai Bovik, a UT undergraduate, and Sebastián Colón-Otero, a former UT staff member.
Some of the contributions to this issue came out of a course I taught for the first time in the spring of 2021, called “Preserving Austin’s Queer History.” The course teaches undergraduates about Austin’s LGBTQ+ history and trains them to conduct oral history interviews with community members past and present. Undergraduate student Dimitri Walker’s oral history interview with trans activist and Ground Floor Theatre co-founder Lisa Scheps, excerpted here, was a product of that course. The course also inspired professors Moore, Chávez, and myself to organize a meeting in February 2022 bringing together more than thirty community members who care deeply about documenting Austin’s queer past. Erin Akins, a graduate student in the English Department, writes about that event and the personal meaning it held for her in “The Pressure Moves the Needle.” My review of Samantha Rosenthal’s recent book, Living Queer History, about her ongoing work with the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, describes how this local, Southern, community-based public history project can serve as a model for us in Austin.
The remaining contributions to this issue bring queer Austin history up to the present. César Ivan Alvarez-Ibarra, a LLILAS graduate student, reviews day four of the most recent OUTsider Fest, an annual LGBTQ+ film and arts festival which has taken place in Austin for the past eight years. As Alvarez-Ibarra writes, the event provides a “temporal/spatial break” from the difficulty of queer life in Texas where Republican-led attacks against us have been growing more and more brutal over the past few years. Trans youth have been the focus of Republican lawmakers’ recent campaign of hatred. In her “Ask a QT” feature, sociology graduate student Erika Slaymaker, traces these attacks on trans youth and Texans’ resistance to them.
I am not eager to see how Texas Republicans build upon these human rights abuses in the future. Already Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has called for Texas to adopt a law similar to Florida’s, prohibiting discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. Governor Greg Abbott has promised to make it a priority during the Texas Legislature’s next session, beginning in January. Meanwhile, emboldened by the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Attorney General Ken Paxton has voiced his enthusiasm for defending Texas’s anti-sodomy law, should the Court overturn Lawrence v. Texas next.
Drawing on and learning from the struggles and achievements of our LGBTQ+ forebearers can help provide us with the strength we will need for the battles awaiting us in Texas. When confronted with those who would erase our existence, preserving the LGBTQ+ past and claiming our long history in Austin and in Texas is vital. So, dear QT Voices readers, I hope you take care of yourselves in what remains of this summer and find queer joy where you can. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be teaching “Preserving Austin’s Queer History” once again, bingeing Heartstopper with my daughter, and gearing up for the work ahead.
Lauren Jae Gutterman (she/her) is Associate Professor of American Studies, History and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also a member of the LGBTQ Studies Advisory Council.