Campus News

Conference to explore past, present, future of gender and sexuality studies

Madeline Davis pictured right at a 1971 protest in Albany, NY holding the "Buffalo Radical Lesbians" sign.

Madeline Davis, a pioneer in lesbian studies, is pictured right at a 1971 protest in Albany holding the "Buffalo Radical Lesbians" sign.

By ROBBY JOHNSON

Published October 9, 2018

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“We want it to bring together people interested in envisioning a more just future, and working in all different ways to bring it about, to be inspired by where we’ve been and to think, together, about where we’re going from here. ”
Christine Varnado, assistant professor
Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies

In the late 1960s, UB faculty member Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and others founded UB’s Women’s Studies College, one of the first women’s studies programs in the nation. By 1972, the program offered 45 different courses, including one of the university’s most popular classes, “Women in Contemporary Society,” which enrolled about 140 students each semester.

Kennedy, now a professor of women’s studies and English at the University of Arizona, will return to UB this weekend for “Radical Histories, Radical Futures: Buffalo on the Vanguard of Feminist and Queer Thought,” the first conference presented by UB’s new Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies.

The conference, taking place Oct. 12-13, will showcase the university’s history in the field of women’s studies and the rich past of the LGBTQ community in Buffalo, as well as look ahead to the future of gender and sexuality studies.

All events are free and open to the public.

“This event is both the kickoff to an exciting new future, in which gender and sexuality studies at UB again has the institutional standing and autonomy consummate with its place in the field, and a chance to honor and reflect on the whole story that has brought us to this point, which is a story about how politically engaged and activist forms of scholarly inquiry get taken up into academic institutions,” says Christine Varnado, assistant professor in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies and a conference organizer.

Kennedy taught at UB for 28 years, and is co-author, with Madeline Davis, of the award-winning “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community,” which documents the lesbian community in Buffalo from the 1930s to the 1960s. She will join UB women’s studies co-founders Sherri Darrow, director of health promotion in the Office of Student Life, and Bonita Hampton, a professor of education at SUNY Oswego, for the conference’s keynote roundtable discussion at noon Oct. 12 in 403 Hayes Hall, South Campus. Registration and coffee will begin at 11:30 a.m.

“I have been teaching [Kennedy’s] work, and teaching about the central role UB played in the foundation of women’s studies as an academic field, in all of my Global Gender and Sexuality Studies classes ever since I arrived here,” says Varnado. “It will be amazing to hear [Kennedy, Darrow and Hampton] reminisce about getting the program started, but the discussion is also going to take on the present and future of gender studies, and the interrelated-but-distinct practices of feminist activism, university teaching and academic research.”

Following the keynote, Jennifer Wilson, assistant professor of Slavic and Eastern European languages and cultures at The Ohio State University, will present her research on the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, and anti-capitalist and anti-war politics in the experimental UB colleges.

Other panels will feature community activists and scholars in conversation of topics such as the radical queer subcultures of Buffalo’s present and future.

The conference will reconvene at noon on Oct. 13 at the Central Branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library in downtown Buffalo for “She Walked Here,” a historical street tour to commemorate the city’s lesbian bar history and working-class butch/femme subcultures. The tour, from noon to 3 p.m., is presented by the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project and Preservation Buffalo Niagara. Register for the tour online.

Following the street tour, participants will take an archive tour of the Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York from 3-5 p.m. in Butler Library at SUNY Buffalo State. Davis, founder of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier and a pioneer in lesbian studies, will lead the tour.

A reception will follow in the library.

Varnado encourages faculty, staff and students to attend the conference, especially if they are even remotely interested in Buffalo and its history. She also says the conference is a way to bring people together and inspire an even better future through gender and sexuality activism.

“Anyone interested in Buffalo’s history will get a great deal out of this conference and learn more about a pivotal moment in Buffalo that still provides the bedrock historical foundation upon which the activist and community justice efforts of the present are built,” she says.

“This conference is a celebration and a memorialization of a moment in the past that it’s so important to learn from, but we also envision it as a meeting point, clearinghouse and opportunity for building connections and collaborations that will extend long into the future —not only at UB and the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, but across generations and communities in Buffalo,” Varnado says.

“We want it to bring together people interested in envisioning a more just future, and working in all different ways to bring it about, to be inspired by where we’ve been and to think, together, about where we’re going from here.”

For more information about the conference, visit the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies’ website.