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Professor contributes to National Park Service LGBTQ historic sites study

Monday, October 24, 2016

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas researcher has contributed to a National Park Service theme study of important historic sites to the LGBTQ movement.

"This is the first time a government has undertaken a project like this, and I think that it speaks to how we as a country are trying to become more inclusive of all of the citizens that live here and contribute to the national narrative," said Katie Batza, assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. "I am very proud and honored to be a part of this effort."

Batza contributed a chapter on "LGBTQ and Health" to the theme study, and she outlines sites of discrimination, protest and service that have played critical roles in the LGBTQ movement in American history. She hopes the study can start conversations about how medicine and notions of health influence expressions of sexuality as well as how those discussions occur around people all the time.

"Including LGBTQ history, particularly as it relates to health, in the national narrative serves multiple purposes," she said. "It corrects the existing narrative that completely erases both the contributions of and the discrimination against the LGBTQ community. By providing a more inclusive history, the public and the LGBTQ community can better understand the health challenges the LGBTQ community faces — an important step in fighting the health stigmas and disparities that remain as well as continuing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia."

When medical research on sexual and gender minorities began in the late 1800s, scientists and doctors labeled them "deviant," "pathological" and "unnatural," Batza said, descriptions that bolstered social stigma, legal persecution and discrimination for decades.

Sites she identified that fostered discrimination include the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in New York, which frequently housed gender and sexual "deviants," and the former Menninger Clinic in Topeka, where consultants to the government were taught how to use Rorschach tests to identify homosexuals in the military and State Department during World War II, she said.

"It is not the job of historians to whitewash or scrub clean the past. Doing that only leads to a skewed understanding of the present and taints the future," Batza said. "By telling a history that is as honest and messy and complex as possible, we honor the struggles of the people before us, equip everyone with as complete a context as possible to grapple with the realities of today's lasting disparities and discrimination, and hopefully provide tools to ensure a better future for all of us."

Her study also features The Brewer's Hotel in Pittsburgh, which became an impromptu hospice during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

While health was a source of discrimination and protest for much of LGBTQ history, Batza said members of gender and sexual minorities also created sites of service throughout the 20th century in an effort to obtain needed health care, such as the Gay and Lesbian Community Centers in Memphis, Tennessee; Washington, D.C., and New York among others in the 1970s and 1980s.

She also includes the Oregon office of Dr. J. Allen Gilbert, who in 1918 treated patient Alberta Lucille Hart, who transitioned to become Alan Hart, who himself became a doctor in Boise, Idaho, and went on to use X-rays to diagnose tuberculosis and likely save thousands of people's lives.

As protest sites, Batza identifies protests across the country in the 1970s against the American Psychological Association, led by former patients of psychiatrists that advocated for the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of diagnosable mental disorders.

"I think people will be surprised by the diversity of sites represented in this study. Health isn't just limited to hospitals and doctors' offices," Batza said. "Discussions of health and sexuality extend into social spaces, political landmarks, conference rooms, boarding houses, jails, immigration entry points and so many other locations. Discussions of health and sexuality that impact all of our understandings and experiences of sexuality happen everywhere, nearly all the time."

Photo: The Willard State Hospital, via AsylumProjects.org.