What We Talk About, When We Talk About “Familia” (2014)

Rapporteur:     Jennifer Osorio, UCLA

Sócrates Silva, University of California, Santa Barbara
La Familia: Documenting LGBTQ Student Networks in Higher Education

Michael Scott, Georgetown University
Contad@s: Data Sources on LGBT-Headed Families in Latin America

Melissa Gasparotto, Rutgers University
Uncovering the US Latina Lesbian Genealogy

Sócrates Silva presented his work on the documenting LGBTQ student groups in California, entitled, “La Familia: Documenting LGBTQ Student Networks in Higher Education.” He began with a definition of family from The Queen’s Vernacular:  A Gay Dictionary (1972) as way to set the context for his study of family in the queer context, and how student groups at higher education institutions in California served as a space where ethnic identity is merged with queerness, and both are celebrated and embraced. In this way they contribute to campus political activity but also serve a social function. Silva focused on California groups with “La Familia” in their name, asking the following questions:

1) Why did the concept of family resonate with these groups?
2) What are the connections between these groups?
3) What kind of documentation can be found about these groups, and in a larger context, what function do university archives have in documenting student groups: and what is it about university archives that makes that function difficult? Why should this matter for a “transient” group?

Through interviews on the UCSB campus, he determined that the number of people on campus who were queer and Chicano was so small, that it almost felt like the group was predetermined. As such, many of the groups are not hierarchical and most social media groups are closed. Archiving them is difficult for these reasons, and also because of the transitory nature of the groups, there is little continuity to websites. This creates difficulty for web archiving, but it helps create a safer space for groups that still experience hostility and alienation on college campuses.

Next, Michael Scott presented “Contad@s: Data Sources on LGBT-Headed Families in Latin America.“ The main focus of Scott’s project was to investigate how governments construct sexuality, more so than the actual sources themselves. But gathering the data is difficult for a number of reasons, including the fact that census sites are often developed by statisticians, not information professionals. Thus, the data is often easier to find in reports, which he demonstrated with reports from Argentina, or in the actual questionnaires themselves. Even then, the questionnaires often don’t ask about orientation, they only ask about relationships, so people who are not part of a couple do not get counted.

Sócrates Silva (UCSB) asked where these non-governmental groups were getting their information, in that case and the answer was that they were mostly doing their own limited polling.

Scott named several non-governmental groups, mostly in Argentina and Mexico, that are providing their own data. Other entities, such as the Latin American Public Opinion Project has had questions about same sex marriages and other queer issues in their survey for the last five years, and the Gender Watch database is very good for getting primary resources on LGBT issues in Latin America.

Nora, from the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Sociales y Desarrollo (INCEDES) asked why Scott had not included Guatemala and he replied that Guatemala does not include questions about sexuality in their census. Only Brazil, Argentina, possibly Costa Rica and Mexico do, and Chile has plans to include them in their upcoming census.

Finally, Melissa Gasparotto presented her paper titled “Uncovering U.S. Latina Lesbian Genealogy.” She explained that her presentation was really about the value of raising students’ critical consciousness about hierarchies within the library, particularly in the context of overlapping identities, such as queer/latino. Rutgers, where Gasparotto works, has a very diverse population, include a Latino population that is more diverse than usual (most investigations at other institutions have been about Chican@s). Because of Rutger’s mission and past leadership, there is very active and enthusiastic queer activism. She initially started when students came to her looking to find themselves in the literature, and found that a lot of terms used to describe the population were static and inaccurate. She argues that it’s important to help students understand the histories of hierarchies, because it doesn’t occur to them that libraries are political entities. Working with faculty to ensure that class goals include critical thinking about data and sources on the part of students ensures that they will better understand the ways in which terminology can affect research.

A discussion followed with several participants discussing ways in which student groups could be encouraged to archive their materials. Ryan Lynch (Knox College) asked Silva if anybody has experimented with college archives helping students do some self-archiving and figuring out some confidential ways to store materials. Silva replied that, yes that could be an approach. One of the issues is that students are just too busy and so are archivists, so he was wondering how Rutgers managed it. Gasparotto answered that she thought it really came down to Rutger’s history as an activist institution.

Anne Barnhart (University of West Georgia) suggested targeting faculty advisors, but Gasparotto pointed out that those advisors change a lot; Lynch agreed, noting that the groups themselves also changed frequently and that some of them were not the kinds of groups that worked with advisor.

Sarah Hogan (University of Chicago) wanted to know if some of the groups on the UCSB campus that Silva had studied where splintering as they found themselves focused on different issues. He responded that at UCSB, El Centro was actually an umbrella organization with some 10 different groups of various affinities. Gasparotto asked if anyone worked somewhere where groups were not under student organizations but where instead situated under a fully staffed center, like at Rutgers. Roberto Delgadillo (UC Davis) said that they have a new cross-cultural center that houses many groups but that some are housed elsewhere and there are communications issues. Hogan mentioned two different projects occurring at the University of Chicago to document LGBT groups. Ryan Lynch pointed out that Cornell does a very good job of archiving LGBT student groups and has been doing so since the 1960’s.

Tracy North (Library of Congress) asked Gasparotto to talk more about the hierarchies of LoC subject headings. Gasparotto replied that subject headings are moving targets -- that the terminology is always changing and we’ll always be playing catch up. Even the queer community doesn’t have terminology everyone can agree on, and she referred to Emily Stravinsky’s paper arguing that we should just leave the subject headings static so that people would be forced to confront archaic terminology and its effects. Gasparotto wants the word queer to just cover everything as it’s been “accepted” but Barnhart pointed out that acceptance of that term is very regional and that it is very problematic on her campus.

Ryan Lynch (Knox College) asked Scott if other countries had found a way to combat the situation in Bolivia, where questions about sexuality where left off the census because it was feared that people wouldn’t want to confess such matters to census takers. Scott replied that what really seemed to be changing attitudes was the passage of same sex marriage laws, as in Argentina and Chile.

Silva asked about the questions on the LAPOP and whether the questions were being asked in all the countries covered by the project. Scott said that yes, the same questions were asked in all the countries and that they tended to be things like “What do you think about gay marriage?” or “What do you think about homosexuality?”

Gasparotto asked if Silva had a timeline for finishing his project and visiting California Archive and he said that not yet, but he was also interested in conducting some oral histories.

Finally, Barnhart requested that the presenters put their materials in the SALALM institutional repository for use by others, especially any teaching materials.