Out on Campus: An Interview with Curator Barry Loveland (Part Two)

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In August, the Pennsylvania LGBT History Network completed its latest traveling exhibit, titled Out on Campus: A History of LGBTQ+ Activism at Pennsylvania College and Universities. The exhibit is currently scheduled for visits at nine locations around the state, including various colleges and universities and LGBT community centers. Out on Campus provides excellent opportunities for learning about LGBTQ+ history, thinking about public history partnerships, and reflecting on higher education’s roles and responsibilities in social justice struggles. San Francisco State University historian Marc Stein, a consultant and contributor for Out on Campus, conducted this interview with Barry Loveland, the exhibit organizer and curator, in August 2022. Part One of the interview appeared in a previous post.

Marc Stein (MS): For the Out on Campus exhibit, who were the principal contributors and what were their main institutional affiliations and professional positions? Also, can you describe your background, your connection to history, and your reasons for pursuing this work in general and the higher education exhibit in particular? And how has this worked as a collaborative project that involves academic and community-based historians, librarians, archivists, students, and others?

Barry Loveland (BL): Our team of researchers, curators, and script writers included—in addition to you—Dr. Mary Foltz (Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University), Scott Burden (Director of the Pride Center at Lehigh University), Dr. Gary Rothman (dentist, alumnus of Lafayette College, and history buff), Dr. Mary Zaborskis (Assistant Professor in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg), Jeremy Boorum (PhD candidate in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg), Dr. Steven Burg (Professor of History at Shippensburg University), Ethan Smith (graduate student in history at Shippensburg University), Malinda Triller Doran (Special Collections Librarian at Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections), and Megan Massanelli (Librarian at Archives and Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh). I’m the chair of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania History Project, and I managed the exhibit project.

I’m now retired after a thirty-two-year career as Chief of Architecture and Historic Preservation with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, where I managed architectural design and construction projects for the preservation of state-owned historic sites and museums, exhibit projects, and conservation of artifacts. I have a B.S. in Building Sciences from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.S. in Historic Preservation Planning from Eastern Michigan University.

I pursue this work because I have lived through some of this history, helped create some of this history, and am curious about earlier history. This is a history that has not been fully discovered, documented, preserved, and told, so I am working to do that.

I think we have developed a successful formula for collaboration in the several collaborative projects that we have undertaken through the Network. We have a group of people who enjoy working together on a project, and the team expands or contracts depending on the interest in the topic or the needs of the project.

MS: For this exhibit, what sites have you already lined up for showing the exhibit?

BL: The Out on Campus exhibit premiered at the Historic Harrisburg Resource Center from August 19 through September 11. It coincided with Harrisburg’s Third in the Burg monthly opening of galleries, shops, and special events and the city’s annual Gallery Walk. The exhibit then travels to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Elizabethtown College, Lock Haven University, and the Pennsylvania College of Technology. It will be at the William Way LGBT Center in conjunction with the American Historical Association annual conference in Philadelphia in January 2023. After the conference, it will travel to Montgomery County Community College, Penn State Harrisburg, Lehigh University, Lafayette College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Penn State Hazelton, and Bucks County Community College. We expect more bookings to follow. We also have an online digital version of the exhibit available at www.centralpalgbthistory.org/out-on-campus.

The first of twelve panels featured in the Out on Campus exhibit. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania LGBT History Network.

MS: How did the team approach the issue of institutional diversity (in terms of institution types) and diversity among LGBTQ+ people?

BL: We were sensitive to the need to be as inclusive as possible of diverse types of colleges and universities, especially making an effort to include Pennsylvania’s two historically Black universities. We also wanted to include diversity among the student activists highlighted in the stories. We had to deal with the reality that many of the early stories of campus activism lacked a large involvement of people of color, so we tried to balance that by including more recent efforts to organize BIPOC groups and events on campuses.

MS: Why focus on the early years of campus LGBTQ+ organizing?

BL: We chose to put more emphasis on the beginning and earlier periods of campus organizing because this history is often lost or unknown to most people. In all of the stories, we also cover more recent developments to show some of the contrast between the difficulties and discrimination faced by earlier generations of students and the wider celebration of LGBTQ+ students today.

MS: What’s distinctive about Pennsylvania in this arena?

BL: I am not sure that Pennsylvania is distinctive from other states with a mix of urban, suburban, and rural colleges and universities. The experience of students at each campus is both similar and unique depending on that school’s individual identity, cultural environment, traditions, and spirit. Students at some schools, like at the University of Pennsylvania, found a more accepting environment in the early years of organizing in the 1970s, which only grew stronger through the decades, while others like Lafayette College were considered among the most homophobic in the nation well into the 1990s.

We did uncover surprising stories in unexpected places such as community colleges, which have not been seen as major players in LGBTQ+ history. These are generally commuter schools where students do not have the full immersion experience of residence life, the extensive social life, and the tradition of student activism associated with four-year colleges and universities. From the largest gay rights student protest on a college campus prior to the Stonewall riots at Bucks County Community College in 1968 to the first transgender student government president in the nation at Harrisburg Area Community College in 2002, these are indicative of LGBTQ+ student activism being possible in unlikely places. It is a reason for all colleges and universities to try to research their LGBTQ+ history to discover similarly unexpected stories.

MS: What are your hopes for this traveling exhibit, especially in the current political context?

BL: I hope that audiences will see how colleges and universities played a significant role as incubators for the larger LGBTQ+ movement. Colleges and universities often provided the first opportunity for young people to come out and find others like them, experience the reality of discrimination, and learn the importance of activism to create social change. Many of these students went on to become leaders in LGBTQ+ activism in their chosen communities and built the foundations of progress. Today, we still rely on colleges and universities to provide young LGBTQ+ people with the appreciation of progress made and the determination to see the promise fulfilled for an equal society.

~ Marc Stein is the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History at San Francisco State University and the coeditor of Queer Pasts (Alexander Street/ProQuest). He is the author, most recently, of The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History (NYU Press, 2019); Queer Public History: Essays on Scholarly Activism (University of California Press, 2022); and the forthcoming second edition of Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement (Routledge, 2023).

~ Barry Loveland is the co-founder and chair of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania History Project and coordinator of the Pennsylvania LGBT History Network. He was chief of the Division of Architecture and Preservation at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for more than 30 years until his retirement in 2015. He is the co-author with William Burton of Out in Central Pennsylvania: The History of an LGBTQ Community (Penn State University Press, 2020).

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