Statewide Pride, a digital map and storytelling exhibit, aims to highlight locations significant to LGBT history across Kentucky throughout the twentieth century. These sites may include bars, private homes, businesses, crime scenes, and more. Statewide Pride, as a project, began in May 2018 by then history undergraduate Emma Johansen and her mentor Dr. Lara Kelland, a public historian and assistant professor at the University of Louisville. The initial project was in collaboration with UofL’s Summer Research Opportunity Program, a ten week research initiative that connected undergraduate students to their proposed fields. This initial research was continued into the fall semester as an independent study, focused on bringing findings on Kentucky in context with national and regional movements and trends. The information collected and documented in this digital history project will continue throughout the years into a walking tour of Louisville, and expanding the digital map’s scope to include more information from oral histories and archives being discovered. This digital map may later include photographs, artifacts, and interview transcripts used when researching, and this website may be used to expand the queer historical discipline no matter the age or experience of the inquirer.
This public history project can be used not just to include more voices in the field of history amongst a discipline that has often failed to fully preserve queer experiences, but as a lens into which we can analyze the significance and prevalence of the LGBT community within Kentucky and the American South. From college grounds to courthouses, and from private homes to popular bars, LGBT persons have been an integral part of Kentucky’s past. The Kentuckian LGBT community has a rich heritage that stretches from the plains of Ashland and Paducah to the skyscrapers in Louisville and Lexington, yet is under considered in both LGBT and academic circles. While most LGBT scholarship focuses on the individual, this map enables students and scholars alike to see how discrimination and resistance often walk along the same path, in an endless stalemate with each other, and analyze how legal, social, economic, and political oppression can shape the geography of a group.
Statewide Pride drew primarily from the Williams-Nichols Archive at the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Library. David Williams began the Williams-Nichols Archive inside his home. A Louisville journalist and writer, David Williams was in the wake of the AIDS Crisis and sprout of underground newspapers being spread around the gay community. The archive is still being updated, and now consists of 1500 LGBT artifacts, 3500 books, and 3000 articles. Louisville’s Williams-Nichols Archive is unmatched in documenting Kentucky’s LGBT community. It directly combats the erasure and ignorance of LGBT identities in history that has been silencing archival presence of LGBT history for centuries.
As a new field, LGBT history is ripe with promise yet is still being formalized. When studying and mobilizing LGBT history, scholars and students alike must recognize the bias of historical archives: the artifacts preserved are those deemed important enough to conserve during the time in which it was produced. This human subjectivity – that changes over time, cultures, and populations – has left many researchers of black, women’s, and gay history with less than desired findings. However, the disappearance of gay and trans experiences throughout history is still a significant factor when researching. Whether the erasure of queer lives was done intentionally to protect a loved one’s reputation or as an act of survival in a discriminatory society, the fact that LGBT experiences are not in many archives is a signal to historians of a past’s oppression of gay peoples and of the importance in pursuing LGBT heritage.
Despite many hindrances to a fully cohesive project, the digital map, as of November 2018, has over 300 sites plotted and is continuing to expand with the help of oral history narrators, archivists, and community members. Since most evidence of LGBT history was intentionally hidden from the public or destroyed in an act of damning “shamefulness” from history, so much of our knowledge and research comes from everyday Kentuckians that have lived through these occurrences or know the stories of those who have. Oral histories are one of the most useful forms of evidence we can have as researchers, and, in many cases, may be the only one.
If you would like to help expand this map, contact Emma Johansen at firstname.lastname@example.org.