AQA History

Although Los Angeles, 1978, marked the first official meeting of the Anthropology Research Group on Homosexuality (ARGOH, now SOLGA [and now AQA]), the history of the organization goes back further still.

Folk narratives place the very first beginnings at San Diego, in 1970. It was an era when academic conventions across the country were characterized by protests, walk outs, sit ins and demonstrations. In 1970, women’s rights, Chicano rights, and homosexual rights were all topics of resolutions at the AAA annual meeting. According to reports, Clark Taylor stood in the business meeting, chained to another man, and announced a resolution on homosexuality. This resolution stated:

Whereas anthropological studies of homosexuality are important to the advancement of Anthropology as a science and to the well being of society, and Whereas homosexual men and women are a taboo minority group even within the American Anthropological Association, and Whereas increasing numbers of homosexual women and men entering anthropological fields wish to undertake research on homosexuality and homoerotophobia, and Whereas such studies, and the training of students to undertake them, are almost nonexistant, Be it resolved that the American Anthropological Association recognizes the legitimacy and immediate importance of such research, and training, and urges the active development of both.

Taylor also introduced a resolution condemning homophobia (then termed, “homoerotophobia”; see AN 12(1):17), and one that encouraged the AAA to advocate “the immediate legalization of all consensual sexual acts.”

Our folk history also records the stunned silence of the audience. Although Stonewall had occurred a year before, active discrimination against lesbian and gay anthropologists kept the vast majority of lesbigay anthros securely in the professional closet. Indeed, many of the founders of ARGOH/SOLGA never secured full time, academic jobs. One was fired for coming out and took to lawyering instead; another committed suicide. Many paid a real and dear price for their involvement in this political and intellectual movement, and we have lost all too many colleagues to AIDS. For these reasons, it has taken 20 years for SOLGA to “come out” within the AAA.

Three years after the 1970 resolutions, the idea for a scientific panel on homosexuality was broached among an informal group. In Mexico City, 1974, the first such panel became a part of AAA history. Margaret Mead served as one of the discussants, and Taylor reports “that was Margaret Mead at her best, she was there with her transsexual secretary, and relatively open about her bisexuality, absolutely tremendously supportive.” Several of the papers presented at that panel became part of Stephen O. Murray’s edited volume, Oceanic Homosexualities (Garland Press, 1992).

Organizing efforts continued, and battles were waged with the leadership of the AAA, among others. Finally, for the 1978 AAA meetings in Los Angeles, the first official business meeting was convened by Kenneth Read. The organization was named ARGOH, Anthropology Research Group on Homosexuality. By 1981, in an effort to achieve some gender parity, the tradition of featuring two co-chairs — one male, and one female — was instituted; Larry Gross and Evelyn Blackwood ushered in a new era for ARGOH. Then, in 1987, ARGOH became SOLGA, and in 1994, Atlanta, the membership finally voted to actively pursue official status within the AAA. This status was granted in January 1998 by the Executive Committee of the AAA.

Several themes run through ARGOH/SOLGA history and are repeatedly addressed by people recounting this history. One features the threat of discrimination, balanced against the sheer pleasure of finding “gay” company at the AAA meetings. The two names of the organization reflect the tension between a theoretical perspective that centers on a research agenda (“Anthropological Research Group on Homosexuality”, though this name ironically served as a cover for a relatively social caucus) and a more active, political stance; consider SOLGA, “Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists,” a name informed by identity politics.

In many ways, these tensions reflect generational differences among our membership. In 1994, when the vote was taken to pursue official status within the AAA, only one person voted against the motion. One of the original ARGOH/SOLGA members, this member was concerned that the lack of confidentiality would drive away anyone who could not tolerate being publicly identified with the group. The younger members did not consider being “out” a problem. Indeed, “queer theory” has become quite fashionable, based in part on the lesbian and gay publishing boom of the last ten years.

Although no jobs in the country are currently designated for lesbian and gay anthropology, graduate students continue to pursue lesbigay and trans topics. Things do seem to be getting better: in 1993, the AAA appointed a Commission on Lesbian and Gay Issues in Anthropology (now the Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Issues in Anthropology, COLGBTIA). At the 1998 AAA meetings, COLGBTIA will present its final report, documenting both continuing discrimination against lesbigay and trans anthropologists, but also improvements in research, publishing, and employment fields.

SOLGA has finally “come out” within the AAA. When asked about issues for the future, SOLGA members replied that while we have achieved real gender parity within the last ten years, we remain a predominantly Euro-American, white group, and need to increase our cultural and ethnic diversity. Other members identified the need for greater inclusion of bisexual and transgender colleagues and issues. We invite all to join us; despite the sometimes serious politics of our business meetings, we do manage to have more fun than most.

— Deb Amory

[Editor’s Note: In 2010, after a year-long discussion about the organization’s mission and demographics, the membership voted to change the section’s named to the Association for Queer Anthropology, or AQA.]