Queering Duke History

Contextualizing Duke Queer History

The history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and the LGBTQ freedom struggle provide a context for this exhibit about the queer[1] history of Duke University.

LGBTQ Americans have made many contributions to U.S. history. Katharine Lee Bates, a lesbian, penned “America the Beautiful.” Many historians postulate that James Buchanan, our fifteenth President, was gay, and Bayard Rustin, a queer African American man, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The history of the oppression of LGBTQ individuals and their struggle for equality has not been easy. Many LGBTQ Americans have died for their queer identity, from the LGBTQ Puritans who were executed as sodomites to gay teens today who are committing suicide in epidemic numbers.

LGBTQ people have historically been silenced by laws that criminalized their behavior; discriminated against in housing, employment, and healthcare; and rejected by families and spiritual communities.

Many historians mark the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a New York bar uprising, as the start of the modern Gay Rights movement. LGBTQ Pride parades sparked by this movement have become a public symbol of LGBTQ openness and inclusion.

[1]Many scholars and young people have reclaimed the term, queer, from its historically negative meaning as an umbrella concept for the LGBTQ community that references pride and empowerment.

Contextualizing Duke Queer History