June is Pride Month, which means more rainbow flags are flying than ever. Yet in some parts of the country, lawmakers are trying to bury LGBTQ history by forbidding teachers to discuss it and banning books about it. Despite that pushback, incoming San Francisco State University Provost Amy Sueyoshi says the time is right for the Queer History Conference 2022, to be held on campus and at other locations around the city June 12 – 15, because the field of LGBTQ history has never been stronger.
“The field has grown exponentially so that now we have a critical mass of published scholars and up-and-coming graduate students who make it possible to throw a robust conference,” said Sueyoshi, who previously served at the University as a professor of Ethnic Studies and Sexuality Studies and is currently the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies. “We are also in a place in which a university would not be ashamed of hosting a queer history conference. And, we have enough queer historians who have received jobs in institutions of higher learning and have been welcomed into administrative positions so that we have the administrative skill set to even host a conference. For all of that I am so grateful.”
The first Queer History Conference was also held at San Francisco State in 2019. Co-hosted by the University’s College of Ethnic Studies with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History and the GLBT Historical Society, the second conference will include panels, presentations, tours and other events featuring scholars from across the country. As the got ready to kick off, Sueyoshi discussed how she got involved and how things have changed for LGBTQ historians.
You’re co-chair of the conference’s Program Committee. How did that come about?
In 2015, I joined the board of the Committee on LGBT History, which is a national organization of queer historians. I am a US historian with expertise in race and sexuality so it made sense for me to join, yet I had never even been a member because the space felt so white and alienating. However, I was invited to join the board by the co-chairs at the time, Amanda Littauer and Nick Syrett, who were both historians just a few years younger than me professionally. I started going to meetings and I found a group of queer historians so dedicated to racial justice and inclusion, I was moved.
There were a number of conversations among the board and also the membership that folks wanted to see a queer history conference. No one seemed willing to host it, though, because of the heavy administrative lift that comes with hosting a conference. I finished my term as a board member and then approached Nick about hosting a conference at San Francisco State after he had also rolled off of being a co-chair. He was a department chair and I had just become dean so neither of us were afraid of the administrative lift.
What made SF State the right university to step in as co-host?
It made sense for us to have it at SF State since it was after all San Francisco, and the University was willing to host it for minimal costs. Queer historians and history buffs far and wide were so grateful that we were even hosting this thing. The Committee on LGBT History in particular was happy that Nick and I took it on. It’s that community gratitude that keeps us motivated to keep doing this.
Incoming SF State Provost Amy Sueyoshi
Honestly, I could never have done it without Nick, who has built the program and answered all the emails. I handle all the logistics on campus and get community partners on board to host things such as receptions throughout the city so the cost remains low to the conference goer. Many queer historians have difficulty getting positions at universities, let alone well-resourced universities, due to homophobia/transphobia as well as the view that history of sexuality is not legitimate, so we wanted to keep this as accessible as possible in terms of cost.
Is this a particularly important time for a conference like this one?
Oh gosh, such a loaded question with all the stuff going on now with “Don’t Say Gay” and other anti-queer laws that are being proposed and passed. On a more positive note, the FAIR Act passed in California just before the first conference, which mandated queer history in K – 12 education. But I would have to say that it’s always been important for us to have this conference.
Any queer historian who went on the job market before the early 2000s will tell you that it was tough to get a job as a queer historian. I now think the academic climate is more open to seeing the history of sexuality as a legitimate field of intellectual inquiry as opposed to the 1970s, in large part because of the incredibly brave and accomplished historians who dared to build their careers through queer history. But still even in this new trans millennium it remains important to continue to create supportive spaces for queer histories and queer historians.
Registration fees for the conference begin at $30 for students, retirees and the underemployed. For full registration information, go to the conference’s page on Eventbrite.