John D'Emilio: On Teaching Religion and Homosexuality in the U.S.
Chronologies on Religion and LGBT Life in the U.S.
This student project was a byproduct of research I began doing in 2006-07 on Chicago. Using the collections at the Gerber/Hart Library, I started to read through all of the Chicago GLBT newspapers and newsletters from the 1960s [mostly organizational newsletters] and the 1970s [lots of community/movement newspapers]. Much of what I encountered had a familiar ring to it. It was similar to what I had experienced as an activist in New York City in the 1970s and what I had encountered doing research on the homophile movement of the 1960s. But some of the content caught my attention as more than variations on common themes.
One thing in particular that grabbed me was how much attention was paid to religion. Some of this involved gay and lesbian community groups that were religiously-oriented – an early MCC congregation in the city, for instance, and chapters of groups like Dignity and Integrity that identified with a particular denomination. Some of it involved debates and developments within communities of faith about sexuality, sexual orientation, the place of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the denominations, and the like. This didn’t square with my own experience of the era, in which religion figured barely at all. Was my surprise simply a reflection of my own biography, as someone who had early on discarded my religious affiliation on the route to self-acceptance? Had I simply not paid any attention to what was going on all around me in the sphere of the religious because it no longer was of personal concern to me? Apparently so!
In any case, partly to satisfy personal curiosity and partly to see how much more of a story there was than what appeared in Chicago’s queer community press, I set to work a couple of undergraduate students who had an interest in the intersection of sexuality and religion.
Gabrielle Anderson began doing the digging, doing searches of newspapers that were accessible on-line and available through our university library as well as web searches for information. She collected a huge amount of material, about a wide range of communities of faith.
Stephen Seely took it a next big step, doing both more research and starting to organize it into timelines by religious groups. Timelines of events by denominations seemed a good way to begin organizing the material, a route to getting a more-or-less “factual” sense of the terrain. These first five timelines were produced by him.
I hope these prove to be a starting point and a useful tool for more research and investigation on this topic. I have another student who will be continuing it this year by developing timelines for other religious groups and by searching for visual material to make it more interesting.
Other chronologies are under construction.