Gender studies program celebrates LGBT history

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White will be discussing her studies on protestant churches and the rise of gay rights.
Johnson’s talk will focus on his book “The Lavender Scare,” which is in the process of becoming a documentary.
Shelin’s presentation will cite his work on LGBTQ rights in present day Florida.

The Gender Studies Program is an integral part of New College’s community and culture. October kicks off LGBT History Month, and the recognize its importance, Professor of Literature and Gender Studies Program Director Miriam Wallace wanted to organize an event that would bring students, faculty and community members together. After working with the Gender Studies Program, the department created “History, Social Change and the LGBTQ Community: More Than Just Marriage,” a lecture open to the public.

The event will feature Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida, David Johnson. Johnson’s book, “The Lavender Scare in 1950s Florida,” will be the topic of discussion. The respondents will include Ken Shelin, Equality Florida Board member and former Sarasota County Commissioner and New College’s own Visiting Professor of Religion Heather White, who will be discussing her research on gay rights in relation to Christianity.

Wallace planned the lecture after being approached by the Executive Director of Equality Forum Malcolm Lazin, who hoped put on an event at New College for LGBT History Month. Lazin will be proctoring the Queer History ISP in January, contacted other schools in the area in order to try and create a schedule of events for the Sarasota area. Though Wallace was aware of New College’s limited budget, she and her team brainstormed ways to put on the best event possible.

“We know on this campus, gender studies is a really vibrant interdisciplinary area of study and there are lots of student groups and clubs and Student Affairs activities that are closely related, but it seemed to me that what we didn’t have was a sort of a visible public academically oriented piece,” Wallace said. “I know a lot of students are involved in volunteer work and doing activist work off campus, but it seemed like it would be really good to have the kind of event that would pull students and community members, but also faculty and staff, together to learn something more or to refresh what they know and to actually have a place to pull us together around these issues of interest and to have a conversation.”

The lecture will be infused with gay history spanning from the 1950s to the present. Though the focus of both Johnson’s and White’s talks will be on gay, male-bodied individuals, the lecture will encompass all  LGBTQ topics.

“One, I hope that people will learn some history that they didn’t realize that they didn’t  know is part of their history too,” Wallace explained. “The second thing is that I am really hoping that students will find that they have met some interesting people that are at different stages of their life and, who can in some ways, be models for what you could become… It’s sort of gets you out of the myopia anxiety being 17 to 21 and in a panic about what you are going to do when you graduate. I would definitely think of this as a networking opportunity at all kinds of levels –
careers, but also social survival support networks.”

Wallace, who has been  program director for two years, will be moderating and facilitating the lecture. She mentioned that while there have been many gender studies-related events on campus sponsored by Student Affairs, there has never been an event sponsored by the Gender Studies division.

Wallace also believes that this may be the first public lecture hosted by New College on a gay or lesbian topic. She has hopes to continue having a public lecture every year, if funding permits, on various topics to provide support for Gender Studies.

“What I really hope is that New College will really showcase what I think makes this school such a great place to explore which is that we have this incredible range of people that come in with one set of issues and develop others that we are always talking about,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable, but it means we are always interested in continuing the conversation and of course that’s a lifetime of exploration… things aren’t settled when you graduate necessarily either.”

The event will take place on Oct 3 in the Sainer Pavilion from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. 

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