Filson Society to host The History of Gay Press in Kentucky this Friday

by Spencer Jenkins

We all know the story of Stonewall and historic Queer figures like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepherd, but have you heard the tales of David Williams, Henry Faulkner and lesbian feminist-led publication the Lavender Letter? Most likely, not, but you can learn about all of these Queer Kentucky gems from history this Friday at the Filson Society.

The Old Louisville-based non-profit is hosting Filson Friday – In the Fine Print: The History of Gay Press in Kentucky on July 8 from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

The fight for gay and trans equality soared in the twentieth century, and much of that organizing depended on LGBTQ newspapers and publications that circulated in and around Kentucky. The foundation for the LGBTQ rights movement in Kentucky can be revealed between the lines of the Courier Journal, the Free Press of Louisville, and Kentucky’s first LGBTQ newspaper: The Letter. These papers connected queer people from New York, San Francisco, and everywhere in between, putting them in conversation with one another throughout the 1960s and into the 2000s.

This event is curated by Collections Assistant Emma Johansen.

Johansen earned their B.A. in History at the University of Louisville, where they specialized in LGBTQ and public history and graduated summa cum laude. This fall, they’ll be pursuing two master’s degrees in History and Library Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis as a University Fellow.

“I wrote my thesis on gay and trans communication in the 20th century,” they said. “It’s just something that’s been so interesting to me as a scholar — Kentucky has a reputation of being backwards and not having queer people, but we have this intricate network of publications and activists [throughout history.]”

Johansen is hoping people will gather a sense of belonging and a sense of their own history and heritage.

“There has been a Spencer Jenkins in the past and there has been a ‘me’ in the past,” they said. “We’ve had different iterations of people trying to do this work over and over again and instead of inventing the wheel, we can learn from [historical activists and publications] and their tactics.”

After 14 years of Catholic school, Johansen said they remember walking into the LGBTQ+ archives at UofL and having a spiritual experience learning about Queer people that have been fighting for rights throughout history.

“History is kind of like, not my religion, but it’s very spiritual to me,” they said. “Whenever I talk about these figures and the history that came before them, it’s always emotional.”

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