Remaking the Big Picture with the Gay Ohio History Initiative

Americans of 2014 are part of a major chapter in our nation’s history.  With Olympic protests, religious freedom debates, and bans and sanctions on gay marriage, future historians will have plenty of material about change for the GLBTQ community.  As we experience this change, we may wonder how this story will be told.  Will it be another chronicle of “gay history”?  Civil rights history?  Or will it become a permanent mark on our American narrative?

The answer is already underway with projects such as the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI), a collecting and education program sponsored by the Ohio Historical Society.  Since 2006, a collaboration of local gay activist groups and professional historians has been assembling a treasure trove of objects and documents related to the state’s gay community.  As the collection grows, they are working to 1) Create educational resources specific to gender-related civil rights, and 2) fully integrate local GLBTQ stories into the greater history of Ohio, which in the past has completely excluded the individual experiences and greater movements for equality within the state’s active gay community.[1]


Visitors to the Ohio Historical Society already have access to these new acquisitions.  To name a few, political rally pins, historic photographs, and letters to the Columbus City School Board are interspersed among the galleries of the Historical Society’s permanent exhibitions.  Banners from the popular performance group Flaggots Ohio can be seen on display next to other historic flags.  Educators are using these objects to talk about discrimination and the progression of a civil rights movement, one that is quickly changing national perspective in just a few years.[2]  In the exhibition, sometimes these messages are presented outright and other times they are more subtle, according to curator Emily Lang.  Since their inclusion, visitors have found the presentation of GLBTQ history less controversial when it is part of Ohio history, as opposed to a separate story entirely.[3]

Gohi also features an expanding online archive through the open collection program, Ohio Memory.  Anyone is invited to offer an object or document, and groups such as Stonewall Columbus have been especially generous, encouraging partnerships with the Historical Society that have led to years of programming alongside Columbus pride events.[4]

Image Columbus lesbian/gay public health guidebook for hospital professionals.

There is plenty of room for Gohi to grow.  Even as interpretation expands, the project could learn from other state and regional gay history initiatives.  The LGBT Center of St. Louis and Chicago Gay History Project use oral histories and personal testimonies that present diverse perspectives history, and not just gay history.  Interviews focus on the individual experiences of a diverse group of participants, members of the gay community and supporters of extended civil rights.  By connecting to these individuals, these history initiatives also provide resources for current scholarship and community groups who are actively working to promote the needs of the gay community.

In Ohio and throughout the United States, we are discovering different approaches to including GLBTQ stories and objects into our own history.  There is more to see and learn as projects such as GOHI develop, but there cannot be any further progress without actively seeking relationships with members of the gay community who know firsthand about how their story fits into the big picture.

[1] Gay Ohio HIstory Initiative, Ohio Historical Society, accessed March 1, 2014,;

Becki Trivison, “The Gay Ohio History Initiative, Collecting Your History,” Outlook Columbus, accessed March 4, 2014,

[2] Trivison, “Gay Ohio History Initiative,” Outlook Columbus.

[3] Emily Lang, interview with author, February 27, 2014.

[4] The Gay Ohio History Initiative, Ohio Memory, accessed March 4, 2014,

One thought on “Remaking the Big Picture with the Gay Ohio History Initiative

  1. I think you are very right Patrick, in that shared authority needs to play a role here so that members of the gay community can give some insight as to how their story fits into the big picture. I really like this Gay Ohio History Initiative, it is a start in the right direction in tell the story and history of the gay community in Ohio- as many probably do not know of the struggle of the gay community in Ohio, or some may not know how they can help make a difference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s