The Daily Illini

University history professor shines light on marginalization of black gay men through newly published book

By Lauren Scafidi

Gay, black men have been marginalized throughout history, which spurred University history professor Kevin MumfordJT to take action.

“I have been working in the history of sexuality department since I was a graduate student, and one thing I noticed was that it was not very diverse,” Mumford said. “I just started to look for evidence and materials related to African-Americans and gay identity and gay issues, then my ideas just sort of snowballed.”

Mumford just published his third book, titled “Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis.”JT

The book takes place from the March on Washington in 1963 to the AIDS crisis that peaked in the 1980s, he said. It focuses on black gay men and casts a wide net in looking at the way they have been represented and stigmatized in popular culture.

Mumford writes about men who were very famous, such as James Baldwin, and others who were just average people trying to find a sense of their own identities.

For example, one of the activists he wrote about wanted to become a scholar and completed one year of the PhD program, but subsequently quit because he believed he couldn’t be who he wanted to be, Mumford said.

“I think that can happen to students,” Mumford said. “They can become discouraged and it can affect their schoolwork when they don’t feel like they can be accepted — or feel like they have to hide an aspect of themselves for the fear they’ll be stigmatized.”

This stigmatization continues. North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi legislatures have all recently made efforts to pass various bills that some call discriminatory towards LGBTQ individuals.

“In all kinds of cities, gay organizations would introduce this legislation that would say you can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “But the first time the cities introduced this legislature, they were pretty defeated.”

The issue of gay rights is constantly going back and forth and solving it is something that takes a long time, Mumford said.

He hopes the publication of his book will help inform people about the history of black gay men to help combat those negative stereotypes which result from a lack of information, he said.

Because of this, Mumford will incorporate the book in his own curriculum. He said his objective is to try to reach undergraduate students by having his book assigned for courses in history of sexuality, African American history and U.S. history.

Mumford said he hears students throwing around some anti-gay slurs in conversations on campus.

“I’m hoping people realize this is 2016, this is supposed to be a new time,” Mumford said.

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