Celebrate #PrideMonth with this selection of NEH-funded projects and resources related to LGBTQ+ history:
Alice Austen House Museum
The Alice Austen House in Staten Island, New York, received NEH grants to reinterpret the museum to expand and update its presentation of the life of early American photographer Alice Austen (1866-1952), who documented a rapidly changing New York City. Over the course of her life, Austen captured some 8,000 images, including many of New York’s immigrant populations and the intimate relationships and social lives of women at the turn of the century. The new NEH-supported permanent exhibition, New Eyes on Alice Austen, presents Austen’s work and home, a nationally designated LGBTQ historic site, within the context of her 53-year relationship with her partner, Gertrude Tate, and the events of her era, including nineteenth-century immigration, the development and popularization of photography, and the 1929 stock market crash that led to Austen and Tate’s eviction from the house. Take a virtual tour of the new permanent exhibition, which opened in 2019. The museum also received an NEH CARES grant in 2020 to retain staff during the pandemic to make the house museum’s exhibitions accessible through virtual tours and programs.
Several episodes of the NEH-funded BackStory podcast series discuss LGBTQ+ history and individuals. “Out of the Closet” explores the history of the LGBTQ community in the U.S., from tales of gender fluidity in the Old West to early gay liberation, and from the political career of Harvey Milk to the barrier-breaking career of one San Francisco Police Department cop. “A History of Stonewall, the Riot that Started the LGBTQ Revolution” examines the events and legacy of the June 28, 1969, uprising at New York City’s Stonewall Inn and its role in sparking a gay political revolution. “Fighting Jane Crow” presents the multifaceted life of Pauli Murray, civil rights and women’s rights activist, lawyer, Episcopal priest, and author who coined the term “Jane Crow” to describe the compound discrimination of racism and sexism. “Love Off Limits” looks at stories of love that challenged social norms and transcended class, race, and gender. And “Song of Ourselves?” examines diverse aspects of poet Walt Whitman’s life and legacy—from sexuality to spirituality, poetics to place.
Annotated Anthology of Newspaper Columns of Politician and Activist Harvey Milk (1930-1978)
Scholar Jason Black at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, received an NEH summer stipend to prepare a critical anthology of the journalism of Harvey Milk, politician, activist, and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S. The project will produce an anthology of Milk’s serialized biweekly political column, “Milk Forum,” from the influential San Francisco LGBTQ newspaper the Bay Area Reporter, that ran from 1974 until Milk’s assassination in 1978.
NEH-supported documentary films
Several NEH-funded documentaries highlight the lives and achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals. The recent PBS American Masters film Oliver Sacks: His Own Life explores the life and work of the legendary neurologist and storyteller as he shares intimate details of his battles with drug addiction, homophobia, and a medical establishment that accepted his work only decades after the fact. The Unladylike2020 short film series profiles Gladys Bentley, the gender-bending Harlem Renaissance performer and musician. The 2018 film Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, available through PBS American Masters, examines both the groundbreaking work and less well-known personal life of the playwright, activist, and author of Raisin in the Sun, using Hansberry’s personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material. A new short NEH-funded documentary Ginsberg’s Karma looks at a transformative phase in poet Allen Ginbserg’s life—his first trip to India in 1962—that would transform him into America’s first hippie.
An NEH grant to the University of Idaho supported this public history project to collect and digitize oral history videos chronicling the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in Idaho. The project, which was inspired by the murder of a UI alum and former employee in what federal prosecutors determined was a hate crime, has collected 46 video interviews with LGBTQ+ individuals from Idaho, discussing personal experiences related to family, religion, coming out, marriage, politics, and homophobia.
Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
One of the most important figures of the American civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin taught Martin Luther King Jr. the methods of Gandhi, spearheaded the 1963 March on Washington, and helped bring the struggle of African Americans to the forefront of a nation’s consciousness. But despite his incontrovertibly integral role in the movement, the openly gay Rustin is not the household name that many of his activist contemporaries are. Supported by an NEH Fellowship, Lost Prophet by historian John D’Emilio explains why Rustin’s influence was minimized by his peers and why his brilliant strategies were not followed, or were followed by those he never meant to help.
Gulf Coast LGBT Radio and Television Digitization and Access Project
The University of Houston Libraries is using an NEH grant to digitize nearly 6,000 hours of radio and television programs documenting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Houston from the mid 1970s to the 2000s. The project will make available video and audio from four TV and radio series stored on fragile audiovisual formats that have not been seen or heard since their original broadcasts. These unique programs—After Hours, Lesbian & Gay Voices, Wilde ‘n’ Stein, and TV Montrose—chronicle the experiences of the LGBT community in a major Southern city over thirty years and demonstrate the influential role of TV and radio in the LGBT movement for social acceptance and political equality.
The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom
This new NEH Public Scholar book by classicist James Romm offers a thrilling account of the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highlights a chaotic era of ancient Greek history, four decades marked by battles, ideological disputes, and the rise of vicious strongmen. At stake was freedom, democracy, and the fate of Thebes, at the time the leading power of the Greek world.
AIDS History Project
An NEH grant to the University of California, San Francisco, supported a collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society to digitize 160,197 pages from 35 archival collections related to the early days of the AIDS epidemic and make them widely accessible to the public online. These collections document the activities, in the mid 1980s, of hospitals, health care providers, activists, and organizations responding to the AIDS epidemic that ravaged San Francisco’s gay community. The online archive of digitized records and materials documents one of the most significant public health events of the late twentieth century, offering a valuable resource to scholars, students, journalists, and the public across the domains of history, medicine, jurisprudence, literature, and sociology. Read a Humanities magazine article about the project and what it tells us about the AIDS epidemic.
ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives
The ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Archives is using an NEH grant to digitize and provide free online access to 87,200 pages of records from the Mattachine Society, an early national gay rights organization founded in 1950. The project will expand access to the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, the largest repository of LGBTQ materials in the world, and shed light on hidden facets of LGBTQ American life during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.
Poetry & Politics: Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich & the Women's Liberation Movement
Megan Behrent, English professor at New York City College of Technology, is using an NEH award to research and write a dual biography of modern poets Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, describing how their fraught and deeply political friendship shaped the evolution of their political thought and poetry as part of a community of radical, anti-racist, socialist, lesbian feminists.
Voices of LGBT History in Rochester, New York
Browse this NEH grant-supported digital archive of over 200 audio and video recordings of oral history interviews related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement in Rochester, New York. The archive, a collaboration between the University of Rochester and the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, includes interviews recorded for the documentary Shoulders to Stand On and the Gay Liberation Front’s “Green Thursday” radio program documenting the lived experience of Rochester’s LGBTQ+ community. This online resource provides a wealth of information relating to LGBTQ political and social history, the use of broadcast media in political organizing in the 1970s, and the social reform and liberation movements in New York State.
Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe
Conor O’Dwyer, professor of political science and European studies at the University of Florida, was awarded an NEH summer stipend to complete work on the book Coming Out of Communism, which argues that homophobic backlash unexpectedly strengthened the mobilization for LGBT political rights in post-Communist Europe.
Documenting the Histories of Summers in Saugatuck-Douglas
Through an NEH grant, Grand Valley State University and Saugatuck-Douglas History Center hosted local “history harvests” and collected oral histories from Michigan residents about the development of the shoreline communities of Saugatuck and Douglas along Lake Michigan, and used these materials as the focus of an exhibition and community symposium on the region’s history as a tourist destination. The project documents the growth of the area’s bustling summer tourist industry and emergence as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ visitors. Browse an online database of materials digitized through the project, which includes oral histories, photographs, and ephemera from the lakeside communities.
Making Invisible Histories Visible
This partnership between the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for the Study of Women, the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, and the UCLA Library digitized and made publicly accessible 80 manuscript collections and related audiovisual recordings documenting lesbian and feminist activism and writing since the 1930s. This resource guide offers an overview of the project and the digitized collections related to feminist and lesbian organizations and publications from the West Coast.
Pride! of the Community
In 2018, the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, used an NEH grant to hold public digitization events to document and preserve historical resources relating to the LGBTQ+ community of North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region. Among the items collected from the community were photographs, newsletters, records, T-shirts, flyers, protest signs, letters, postcards, and oral history interviews with community members sharing their experiences with LGBTQ+ life, culture, and politics. One notable oral history in the collection is a video interview with Thomas K. Fitzgerald, the first openly gay professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, about his introduction in the 1970s of the first approved college course focused on homosexuality in North Carolina.
NEH’s educational website for teachers and students contains classroom resources for studying LGBTQ+ history, including this resource page of supplemental materials related to the Backstory Radio episode “Out of the Closet: The LGBTQ Community in American History,” and suggested student activities for studying U.S. civil rights movements of the twentieth century.
Humanities magazine articles:
Writing Gay History
AIDS in One City: The San Francisco Story
Martha C. Nussbaum Talks About the Humanities, Mythmaking, and International Development
Amy Lowell Anew
The Messy Genius of W. H. Auden
Julien Green: The End of a World
NEH Blog Posts:
Documenting the LGBT Movement