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

Rainbow Banners at the Ohio Statehouse, 1995. Stonewall Union Records, MSS 1150 AV

Many of the historical LGBTQ+ collections at the Ohio History Connection are part of the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI). Established in 2006, GOHI is a special initiative to collect, preserve, and share the history of LGBTQ+ Ohioans. GOHI collections include organizational records, photographs, personal papers, publications, museum objects and oral history recordings that tell the stories of individuals and the broader LGBTQ+ community in their own words. For more information, visit the GOHI website.

Research Tips

Getting Started: If you're just starting out with your research, check out our Archives & Library guide. It will introduce you to our collections and procedures.

Our Archives: Many of our archival collections that we have interpreted as LGBTQ+-related have been tagged with "Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI)." Click here to view the items associated with that tag.

Our Oral Histories: Our recent oral histories are all available online. View them here. 

Our Blog: We often document LGBTQ+ collections on our blog. Read it here!

Single-Gender Institutions: You can also consider researching the records of institutions and professions that often create single gender environments, such as schools, prisons, or the military.

Criminal Records: 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.

Making Inferences

Identity is a tricky and personal thing. It is best to define a person in the way that they define themselves, past or present. But LGBTQ+ history can present some challenges. 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 we use today. But we have to use words we understand to write about them. 

Here are some ways to make inferences in a respectful and informed way:

  • 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 wrote about themselves? 
  • 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, but 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 use after the person died.
  • Once you offer your explanation, it's fair to proceed with the assumption that your inference is correct. Repeated explanation might give the impression that assigning someone an LGBTQ+ identity is a poor mark on their record.
  • Write about a person using the name and pronouns they used for themselves at the end of their life. 
  • 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.

Further reading: