LGBTQ historians complain of discrimination

Historians in the News
tags: LGBT



Mary Louise Roberts is Lucie Aubrac Distinguished and Plaenert-Bascom Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

For most universities and colleges in this country, discrimination against LGBTQ people is “legal” inasmuch as legal infrastructures to address incidents of bias do not exist. Most academic institutions have some protections for gay men and lesbians, but few protect transgender and transsexual people, declining even to include the relevant language in their nondiscrimination policies. As La Shonda Mims reported at a 2016 AHA annual meeting panel on the issue, survey respondents bemoaned “the lack of policies and practices preventing discrimination against LGB, transgender, and transsexual people.” To extend protections, the words “sex,” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” need to be inserted in nondiscrimination policies at academic institutions and organizations. That task is far from finished. At many universities and colleges, something as simple as changing your name to reflect a change in gender identity can be either very difficult or impossible to achieve.

For scholars of LGBTQ history, there is another equally vexing set of problems in the workplace. Many respondents to the task force survey related that they were discouraged by their mentors from pursuing topics about the historical past of LGBTQ people. Worse still, 25 percent of these historians said they had a strongly negative or negative experience on the academic job market because of the focus of their research or in response to their gender presentation. LGBTQ history is often viewed in the profession as peripheral, too narrow, or unimportant. “It is significantly harder for persons who do LGBT research to get tenure-track history jobs,” reported one person answering the task force survey. “Many ‘old guard’ departments see this research as worthless and have negative stereotypes about gay people.” Still another answered: “When I was on the job market, I felt as if I had to hide my sexual orientation and my interest in LGBTQ topics. I was on the job market for five years; it was very stressful for me to be very cautious not to reveal anything personal about myself in interviews.” This historian felt discriminated against both for their choice of research and their gender presentation. Still another candidate on the academic job market noticed a change in the faces of the interviewers when this job seeker walked into the room at the AHA annual meeting. After eight or nine annual meeting or campus interviews, this candidate was hired only as an adjunct. Of course, LGBTQ historians are aware that the market is tough on everyone. Still, they cannot help wondering if they are also dealing with an extra burden of discrimination.




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