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"We Have a Past, But Not a History." The Various Dimensions of LGBTQ History, Leadership, and Community.

"We Have a Past, But Not a History." The Various Dimensions of LGBTQ History, Leadership, and Community.

A Think Queerly Podcast discussion about Dr. Madeline Davis and queer representation in history with Jeffry J. Iovannone.

Jeffry J. Iovannone joins me on this week’s Think Queerly Podcast to have an expanded discussion about his latest article titled, “Madeline Davis’s Queer History of Buffalo.”

In this episode, we discuss,

  • An overview of Madeline Davis’ relatively ‘unrecognized’ impact on LGBTQ history and advocacy — possibly because she didn’t live in a large, metropolitan city like New York or San Francisco and chose to remain in Buffalo
  • The “metro-normative narrative” of queer existence and history: “essentially the idea that queer people from “country towns” must migrate to large cosmopolitan cities in order to lead fully realized lives free of secrecy and persecution.”
  • On the selective inclusion of LGBTQ history: "I didn’t have much exposure to LGBTQ history or culture within my formal education. I now see this as an aspect of the oppression LGBTQ people face. We are often denied access to our own histories, forced to seek them out on our own if we realize they exist at all, because they are not part of the mainstream narrative."
  • Why LGBTQ history is not a special narrative of history that’s outside the mainstream — it’s central and a significant part of US history.
  • Teaching people the truth through history is liberating, and it shifts our consciousness about how the world works and how power operates. This can be seen as dangerous by those seeking to suppress the truth.
  • Davis’ driving force to create the Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York was born out of the need to document the underrepresented history of the Buffalo LGBTQ community. Davis often said, "We have a past, but not a history."
  • Why oral history is important in the context of underrepresented geographical areas — it allows people to speak in their own voice who may not be otherwise heard in the mainstream narrative, and to tell their stories as significant figures within history in general.
  • Davis "helped me believe in the value of fighting to make unsung queer lives visible. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” the activist Marian Wright Edelman once said."
  • Jeff refers to Davis as a beacon of possibility because of the influence she had on his work as a historian.
  • Hero worship and icon status. We cannot do this work alone, or as a single "group" within the larger LGBTQ+ community. “The status of “icon” can flatten someone’s complicated humanity under its weight. Such terms also reinforce the false idea that change happens because of the efforts of extraordinary individuals, though, in most cases, those individuals are heterosexual men. Change happens when people with a common purpose come together, organize, and work toward a shared vision.”
  • Jeff suggests that there are no heroes, there are only communities. The danger of making someone into a hero or icon is that the observer may feel they can never live up to what the historical figure accomplished.
  • Lastly, Jeff shares details on his book project on Buffalo’s gay liberation movement that picks up where Davis’ 1993 book, "Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold," ends.

Guest Bio

Jeffry J. Iovannone is a historian from Buffalo, New York, who specializes in LGBTQ history of the United States. He is currently at work on a book about Buffalo’s gay liberation movement from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Iovannone is also the co-founder of Gay Places, an initiative that documents LGBTQ historic resources in Western New York, with Preservation Buffalo Niagara.


All quotations are cited from the article by Jeffry J. Iovannone. Image credit, Michael Coghlan