UT faculty incorporate LGBT history in the classroom

Rajya Atluri

As a black member of the LGBT community, Xavier Livermon rarely saw anyone like him in his history books. But now, as an assistant professor, Livermon is teaching students the diverse curriculum he didn’t have growing up.

Livermon, an assistant professor of African and African diaspora studies, and several other UT faculty members are bringing LGBT history to the classroom.

“It’s always been a goal of mine that if I ever had the opportunity to teach or create a curriculum, I would make sure these issues were a part of it,” Livermon said.

Livermon strives to include LGBT material in both his African popular culture and hip-hop politics classes, where one student gave a presentation on Young Thug that discussed the rapper’s gender and sexuality.    

“It’s human history — it’s human life,” Livermon said. “I think for far too long we have seen LGBTQ history as maybe something that is outside the norms of study. Wesee it as something you do when everything else is finished, so what I’m trying to do in my coursework is say that LGBTQ issues are a central aspect of what it means to be human.”

Julie Minich, an English and Mexican American and Latina studies assistant professor, includes LGBT course material in her class “Deviant Bodies: Disability, Race, and Sexuality.” When she lectured about the history of HIV and AIDS, she was surprised to learn many students didn’t know how the epidemic originated or how the disease was transmitted.  

“That was an example of a time when I was teaching something I thought was relevant to LGBTQ history, but it turned out teaching this material ended up benefiting a lot of students who might not necessarily be LGBTQ but learned something about how to practice safer sex and sexual health,” Minich said.   

She said she finds it rewarding when students discover how much of mainstream American history includes LGBT history. 

“It’s not necessarily about changing students’ minds,” Minich said. “It’s helping students realize that LGBTQ people have been part of the United States, part of our culture and part of our society forever, and furthermore, I think it’s especially important for LGBTQ students to have access to material in their classes that reflects their lives.” 

Even in the English department, faculty such as English associate professor Eric Mallin incorporate LGBT history into the coursework. In his curriculum, Mallin includes Shakespeare’s plays, which were performed by all-male casts, and his erotic sonnets, which were often dedicated to another man.

“It’s not as though I am trying to make a political point exactly, but I think it is just historically and scholastically incorrect not to bring these issues up when you are talking about Shakespeare and sexuality,” Mallin said. 

While LGBT undercurrents existed as early as Shakespeare, Livermon said representation for marginalized groups is still lacking today. Although he said the LGBT community currently has better representation in the media, there is still room for improvement, especially with regard to intersectionality. 

“One of the things that is important to me is making sure that we do expand the representation of LGBTQ people of color and the LGBTQ people who are living in the Global South, and that’s what a lot of my classes focus on,” Livermon said. 

Minich said one of the ways to increase this kind of representation is through education.

“I think it’s wonderful that UT offers students so many courses that reflect LGBTQ perspectives [and] perspectives of people of color — just marginalized perspectives in general,” Minich said. “I think the more that people learn about these topics, hopefully, the more just and fair our society can become.”