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LGBTQ+ History Research at the Archives & Library of the Ohio History Connection


Historical LGBTQ+ Collections at the Ohio History Connection

Many of the historical LGBTQ+ collections at the Ohio History Connection are part of the Gay Ohio History Initiative. GOHI is a special initiative of the Ohio History Connection. The GOHI Collection includes organizational records, photographs, personal papers, publications, and oral history recordings that tell the stories of individuals and the broader LGBTQ+ community in their own words. For more information about GOHI, visit gohi.org.

Researchers are encouraged to search the Archives and Printed Materials catalogs and Ohio Memory for more materials related to the LGBTQ+ community in Ohio.


Research Tips

This guide will lead you to many of OHC's standout LGBTQ+ collections,  but there is certainly more to be found. Here are some tips to get you started:

Many of our archival collections that we have interpreted as being LGBTQ+ related have been tagged with "Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI)." You can click here to view all of the archival items associated with that tag.

Consider researching the records of institutions and professions that often create single gender environments (ex. schools, prisons, military)

LGBTQ+ ancestors may appear in criminal records in which their sexuality or gender is criminalized. Consider making yourself familiar with the general history of this legal code and the relevant words before diving into the primary source records.

Many of our recent oral histories are available completely online.

We often document LGBTQ+ collections through long form posts on our GOHI blog. This could be a jumping off point for your research. Read more here. 


Advice on Making Inferences

Identity is a tricky and personal thing. It is always best to define a person in the way that they define themselves, past or present. But LGBTQ+ history can present some problems. Many historical figures have had their identities left out of the historic record. LGBTQ+ ancestors did not conceptualize of gender and sexuality in the same way as we do, or with the same words- but we have to use words we understand to write about them. 

If we let these problems stop us, a large number of LGBTQ+ folks will be missing from our research. When you are ready to write about what you have found, here are a few ideas on how to make inferences in a respectful and informed way.

1) Tell us what evidence led to your decision to assign this identity. Is it from the individual's actions? Their relationship status? The way they speak about themselves? 

2) Use clarifying language. You may consider including sentences that honor a historic figure's agency, such as "[Name] did not identify themselves as [identity] in any available primary source records, however based on [your evidence] I believe that we would assign the term [identity] to this person today." Be clear if this identity is being expressed with a word that came into popular lexicon after the person died.

3) Once you offer your explanation, assume that your inference is correct and do not dwell on it. Continued explanation can create the feeling that assigning an individual an LGBTQ+ identity is a poor mark on their record.

4) Write about a person using the name and pronouns they used for themselves at the end of their life. 

5) If you are working with a figure whom you believe held an identity that is not your own, we highly suggest consulting with someone who does hold that identity. Depending on your relationship, you may consider paying the consultant for their time.

See also: Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites by Susan Ferentinos and Queer Possibility by Margaret Middleton

Know of a resource we should include here? Email us at gohi@ohiohistory.org!