An Open Letter to the Texas State Historical Association – It’s Time to Include LGBTs

Dear TSHA,

First, let me express my profound appreciation for the goldmine of information found in The Handbook of Texas. I regularly use this free, online reservoir of knowledge when further learning about the geopolitical area called Texas and when preparing lessons for my students, especially as I am now teaching Texas History.

My concern emerged this evening. I had a few extra minutes, and I was looking for some additional information for my lesson about LGBT peoples and rights in Texas for a lesson I am putting together. The Handbook of Texas currently has no entries of which to speak. Zero out of over 26,000 articles.

“Gay” appears in reference to the town, hill, and the last name, with the one exception of this article, which mentions that two of four members of the Austin, Texas, band “The Dicks” were gay.

“Homosexual” and “Homosexuality” appear here in a discussion of prostitution in the 1970s, here in reference to a fictional account, here and here and here when discussing groups in opposition to non-heterosexual peoples. A few brief mentions of supporters are here.

Other very brief (almost one-word brief) accounts found here and here and here come up when searching for “lesbian.”

There is no mention of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), no mention of the Austin, Texas, Marriage Resolution; the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act; the Texas Gay Rodeo (which has occurred yearly since 1984); Ray Hill; or of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus, for example. No mention of anything of which to speak that would be classified as part of the Gay Liberation Movement or the LGBT Civil Rights Movement more broadly. No mention of the controversy and protest that surrounded Anita Bryant’s visit to Houston in 1977 that became a parallel “Stonewall” event for Texas.

What else is left out of The Handbook of Texas’s narrative of the past when it comes to LGBTs? I can think of many, many examples. Doing a search for “African Americans” or “Blacks” in the Handbook reveals plenty of examples that could make for parallel LGBT articles.

(Added Nov 12, 2014, at 5:35 PM: The Handbook includes no mention of Barbara Jordan’s longterm partner, Nancy Earl.)

While preparing this letter, I read on your website that “biographical entries are limited to individuals who are deceased.” I have to ask, why? When historians only permit “dead people,” we unintentionally perpetuate one of the reasons why people do not like History. Additionally, if we only studied those who have already died, our knowledge of the past would be greatly hampered and include no first-hand oral histories.

I see that the TSHA is currently working on expanding its resources on Tejan@ History, which is a wonderful effort. Now is also the perfect time to expand resources for LGBT history with the help of qualified scholars. (Unfortunately, this falls outside of my specialty, and I am currently writing my dissertation, so I cannot help at this time.)

Historiographical gaps, as we all know, exist because of popular prejudices (in the case of Bayard Rustin being almost deleted from History for several decades) and lack of research in order to make history part of History. There is for certain a wealth of sources that shed light on LGBT peoples, their history, and their struggles for human rights. Naturally, by further investigating and knowing about LGBT peoples in Texas, we will have a better knowledge of the Lone Star State. While too much homophobia still lives in Texas, a first step toward erasing this is knowledge.

The Handbook of Texas truly is a wonderful resource, and it can be all the more wonderful by expanding its scope and leading the way toward truly including all people who have lived and created Texas.

Thank you for your time.


Andrew Joseph Pegoda