The academic year 2013-2014 has come and gone, and at the SOHP, we are sixteen interviews all-the-richer after two semesters of highly productive work from our interns. I had the privilege of closely working with each semester’s four interns as the SOHP’s Internship Coordinator. In the fall, Layla Quran, Ashley Templeton, Corinne White, and Grace Tatter served as SOHP interns, followed by Coco Wilder, Aaron Hayworth, Turner Henderson, and Katie Crook in the spring. Morgan Jones, a SILS graduate student, and SOHP associate director Rachel Seidman were instrumental as well, along with all other SOHP staff. These individuals made the internship a success, and it is only fair that I acknowledge each of them before diving into what promises to be an all-too-brief summary of their tremendous contribution.
Last August, we came up with a list of potential oral history projects for the incoming interns to choose from, all revolving around the history of student activism at UNC. Possibilities included anti-apartheid during the 1980s, the black student movement, and many others, but one stood out: the Carolina Gay Association (CGA) and the history of sexuality at UNC since the 1970s. The interns latched onto this idea, and we spent the next eight months exploring LGBTQ activism and social life at UNC and around Chapel Hill. In the University Archives, they found all kinds of documentation about the CGA in the records of the Chancellor, the Student Union, and in the Daily Tar Heel. They went through the CGA’s own newsletter Lambda and began to trace the history of its members as they confronted intolerance and isolation. They identified names, and they began reaching out to people hoping for a chance to interview them about their relationship with the CGA.
As with any oral history project, the interns made scores of phone calls and sent out countless emails to potential interviewees who might have something to say about the CGA or about gay life at UNC. Many were willing, and their stories will soon enrich our archive in important ways. Dan Leonard, one of the earliest leaders of the CGA, spoke with Corinne White about the CGA’s years of activism. Donald Boulton, a former dean of Student Affairs, shared with Layla Quran how the UNC administration supported the formation of the CGA, and how he continually rebuffed those who sent letters demanding that the university defund the CGA. Randall Kenan discussed with Turner Henderson the unfair choice presented to students who were both gay and African American, forced to identify as one or the other. Gary Carden, a long-time hair stylist in Chapel Hill, bluntly told Aaron Hayworth that he had done more than anyone else in the state for gay rights through his business. Together, these and the twelve other interviews shed light on myriad themes, including the contestations of “political” activism; the implications of being “out” or not; the devastation rendered by AIDS; the importance of gay social spaces; cross currents of race, gender, and class fitting into gay and lesbian lives; and the simple act of remembering, framing their pasts in lieu of today’s ongoing discussions about gay rights, identity, marriage, and freedom of expression.
At the end of each semester, the interns “performed” their interviews in front of an audience at the Love House and Hutchins Forum. In front of a packed room, they gave voice to those whom they had connected with during their interviews. Sharing their stories of joy, hardship, and possibility moved the audiences, and hopefully provided some closure to the interns as they encapsulated a long semester of rigorous and emotional work.
After the performance on April 30, everyone lingered for close to an hour discussing the interviews, the SOHP, the interviewees, and the overall project. Two semesters of work had come to a close, but it did not necessarily feel that way. Oral histories of LGBTQ voices are still too few, and the potential for future work is vast. Documenting their histories is a crucial piece of the southern past, and we hope this marks a beginning for increased scholarship.