Why ‘Public History, Learning and Service with and for LGBTQ+ Communities’ is so important

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The Rainbow Center invited Professor Ceglio to speak about the history of the LGBTQ+ community Thursday. Ceglio describes herself as a “museum geek,” using her expansive knowledge to research and write about their history.  Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus

The Rainbow Center invited Professor Ceglio to speak about the history of the LGBTQ+ community Thursday. Ceglio describes herself as a “museum geek,” using her expansive knowledge to research and write about their history. Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus

As time goes on and things change, it’s necessary to preserve our nation’s history through museums and artifacts. LGBTQ+ members may have felt unable to share their voices 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist and weren’t functioning members of society. Ceglio describes herself as a “museum geek,” using her expansive knowledge to research and write about their history, as well as collaborating with various organizations on a diverse range of topics. Her lecture, “Public History, Learning and Service with and for LGBTQ+ Communities” given Thursday at the Rainbow Center,  delves into the history of LGBTQ+ members and how they are portrayed in various land sites, such as museums and historical houses.  

Ceglio defines public history as “history for the public,” where professionally trained academics strive to communicate history in a way that is more understandable to individuals who are uninvolved within academia. For example, establishments such as museums. However, experts are not always needed as communities take it upon themselves to analyze and interpret their history. Service learning, on the other hand, is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful and community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities.” UConn even has its own service learning units where faculty members aid in designing classes that work to collaborate amongst various communities.  

As sad as it is, it’s only until recently that museums in the United States have truly embraced LGBTQ+ history. Ceglio explains how the LGBTQ professional members of the community are the ones who have truly pushed museums to make changes from the inside out.  

“It means our museums welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ staff… what can they do holistically from that inside out to be more aware of the barriers they have traditionally put up that create exclusion,” Ceglio said.  

The Museum of Modern Art is a perfect example of an establishment that has changed their traditional methods to be inclusive, transitioning from gendered bathrooms to neutral ones and more.  

Recognition of past LGBTQ+ activities and existence comes in many forms: through exhibits, special events, programming, monumental memorials, environmental enactments and digital history projects. People will venture to places where LGBTQ+ members lived, celebrated and played. For example, several people reenacted a lesbian Frisbee tournament that happened 33 years prior. It’s important that these occasions are brought back to life and not simply buried under the lengthy number of years that have passed.  

People often turned their heads away when suspected LGBTQ+ behavior was taking place 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Frederic Palmer and Howard Metzger lived together in a lavish home located in East Haddam, with a plethora of pets, cars and collections. After passing away, they left their home to Connecticut Landmarks, which is still being processed and preserved today. Frederic, who passed away first, left everything to Metzger, who then placed CT Landmarks in his will. The house, which is still full of personal belongings, was left as any regular house after Metzger tragically died in a car accident. The old barn in the back is being renovated “to become an exhibition site where they hope to hold temporary exhibits about different facets of LGBTQ+ life in the state of Connecticut,” explained professor Clegio.   

The preservation of these various landmarks, and their recognition, is imperative. There was an LGBTQ+ community in the past, whether people acknowledged it or not, and it’s important to not let those individuals go unnoticed.  


Jordana Castelli is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at jordana.castelli@uconn.edu.

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