KU librarian reaches out to gay Kansans for untold stories
Pride week activities
Kansas University’s annual Pride Week starts today. Here are the scheduled events:
Today: Tabling and cake at Wescoe Beach, 11 a.m.; Lea Delaria concert, 8 p.m., Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Murphy Hall.
Tuesday: Lecture by Augusten Burroughs, author of “Running with Scissors,” 7 p.m., Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union.
Wednesday: LGBT parent panel, 7:30 p.m., Alderson Auditorium, Kansas Union.
Thursday: Movie, “Scout’s Honor,” 7:30 p.m., Big 12 Room, Kansas Union.
Friday: Brown Bay Drag, noon, Kansas Union plaza.
Saturday: Kansas College Unity Coalition, 10 a.m., Kansas Union.
Tami Albin was always very careful. The 11-year-old didn’t go to the library with friends. She never wrote down the call numbers of the books she was looking up. She dodged well-meaning librarians whenever possible.
She trolled the aisles, constantly in a state of childhood fear of anyone knowing she might be up to something.
She was reading anything from the tiny shelf labeled “HQ76.5.”
“Of course, librarians want to be helpful and would ask me if I needed help, and I’d run and hide,” says Albin, now 38 and a librarian in her own right at Kansas University’s Anschutz Library. “It was one of those things where it’s like a deer caught in the headlights. It’s like – blink, blink – oh my God, you know what I’m doing! I’ve been exposed! And you run off, you scamper away.”
What she was doing was exploring the feelings she had felt from age 6 – that she was different. Armed with vocabulary created from insults slung her way across the playground, she dove into books in the HQ76.5 section – the call numbers of the gay and lesbian books. Sitting alone with her finds, she read, gleaning whatever information was available.
Now, Albin is making sure Kansans who believe they might be or who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (GLBTIQ) know they aren’t misfits. She’s proving it by interviewing people in Kansas’ GLBTIQ community for an oral history collection called “Under the Rainbow: Oral Histories of GLBTIQ People in Kansas.”
The project, funded by a two-year new faculty research grant, is seven months in, and Albin already has crisscrossed the state to interview 20 people, ranging in age from 25 to 80. And she’s got people lined up, waiting to tell their stories.
“Initially, it was like, if I can get 20 people to be interviewed, that’ll be great, because I didn’t know how many people would want to be interviewed,” Albin says of her initial goal. “I could just stop the project, but I won’t because so many people want to talk to me. I have easily another 85 people who still want to talk to me.”
Ready to share
Bruce McKinney is one of those who wanted to be interviewed.
McKinney has been a voice in Wichita’s gay community for 35 years, when he came to the city to study education at Wichita State University. He formed the first gay group at WSU, but then ended up leaving the school empty-handed because of his pride.
His advisers, worried about a movement toward keeping gays from teaching, told him his senior year that because he was so outspoken about his homosexuality he would not be recommended for a teaching certificate.
“What good is a teaching degree without a certificate?” he says. “I was devastated.”
He was devastated but determined to be a voice for the gay community. These days, McKinney is on the boards of the Wichita Pride and Kansas Equality Coalition. He provided Albin with a window into the late ’70s in Wichita.
“I told her about the events in 1977, ’78. That’s when Wichita went through the effort of getting the civil rights ordinance to include gay and lesbian people, and then on May 9, 1978, (Wichita was one) of five cities to repeal (it),” he says. “And we lost it at a 5-1 vote, which was pretty devastating to the community. It forever warped our sensibility about who we were. People left town. Kansas did not want us here, and many of the leaders left.”
Anchored by a good job and family, McKinney stayed and fought. And now he’s making sure Albin records every last bit of that time.
“I’ve always wanted to remember what happened 30 years ago because it was so horrible and we need to remember that,” he says. “It was not holocaust, but in our little tiny community in little Wichita, Kansas, it had a big impact.”
Speaking for more than 70,000
Albin says that her videotaped interviews are across the board. She has subjects who knew they were gay anywhere from age 3 to after they were married and had children. She has talked to people who went through programs to “fix” them.
Albin says it’s a history not many people know about, which is part of the reason she took on the project. She was tired of the Midwest being viewed as a place devoid of a GLBTIQ community.
“(It) caused me to think, if it’s really, really that bad in Kansas, why do people stay?” she says. “My partner said to me, ‘You could do an oral history on this, and you could call it ‘Under the Rainbow.’ So, it was like, you’re right, I could do that.”
Getting the history down
Albin plans to squeeze in as many interviews as she can in addition to her job as the undergraduate instruction and outreach librarian and women’s studies subject specialist at Anschutz.
She hopes to get the first transcripts of her interviews up in September on KU’s ScholarWorks Web site, a digital repository. The site will be home to the oral collection and means that the address will be stable and easily located by a keyword search in Google.
The all-access pass to the information is especially important to Albin, who knows that the Internet plays a huge role for those wanting information about being gay. She doesn’t want anyone to miss out on the history and stories of the GLBTIQ community in Kansas.
“A lot of gay kids commit suicide because they don’t understand what’s going on,” Albin says. “And if you have access to information to understand that, then you know you’re OK, you’re OK with what you’re feeling, it’s not the end of the world.
“I think that can save a life.”