Improving Wikipedia’s coverage of LGBTQ+ history

In the 1950’s, the Canadian government set forth a campaign that resulted in the mass expulsion of federal workers, military members, and police force members that identified as or were suspected of being part of the LGBTQ+ community. The institutional persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Canada is known as the Gay Purges and spanned almost half a century from the 1950’s to 1990’s. This significant part of Canadian LGBT history didn’t exist in any language of Wikipedia until a student in Jennifer Evans’ course, History of Sexuality, created it. Fast forward months later, and the article was translated for the French Wikipedia, and is now available for readers in both official languages of Canada. This one example is unfortunately emblematic of the wide scale underrepresentation that the LGBTQ+ community faces on Wikipedia, but students in our program are making significant strides in remedying these content gaps.

If we dig a little deeper, a key influence in the Canadian Gay Purges was the Lavender Scare in the late 1940’s in the United States, where thousands of LGBTQ+ workers across American institutions were expelled from their jobs. Investigations into federal workers’ sexuality continued into the 90’s, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the State Department formally apologized for the Lavender Scare. Despite the lasting impact of these discriminatory practices, the US experienced a major shift in its political culture in 2018 known as the Rainbow wave. This term refers to the unprecedented number of openly LGBTQ+ candidates running for political office in the United States for the 2018 election year. Created by a student in Instructor Diana O’Brien’s course, the Rainbow wave article details the history of LGBTQ+ folks in politics and representation in the US government.

In addition to covering historical discrimination, students across courses also created several articles on activist groups in LGBTQ+ movements. Students from Jennifer Evans History of Sexuality class created the article on an activist organization out of San Diego, CA called San Diego Blood Sisters. The organization sponsored lesbian blood drives in order to help with the country’s blood supply shortage during the AIDs crisis in the 80’s. Other students made sure to create content inclusive of gender identities, like the improvements done to the Sex work movements article. Students in Juana Maria Rodriguez’s Gender and Sexuality in Latinx Pop Culture added a section on transgender sex work movements, highlighting the the intersecting issues faced by transgender people in this line of work due to their transgender identity.

Students working in this specific topic area of LGBTQ+ studies come up against the well-known challenges of establishing notability and finding enough reliable sources to support their topic. It is well established that Wikipedia’s content gaps are a reflection of the broader systemic bias present in society. It is no easy task for student editors to find the necessary information needed to bring these LGBTQ+ topics into existence on Wikipedia. But it is exactly because of their unique position as students in higher education with institutional access to paywalled information that they can increase the much needed representation of LGBTQ+ content on Wikipedia.

In addition to the entries on activism, students also wrote about the cultural and artistic contributions of LGBTQ+ people across the globe. A student in Danielle M. DeMuth’s class, translated the Spanish article on LGBT literature in Iceland for the English Wikipedia. While students in Alma Lopez’s Queer Arts class, generated the biographies of several queer artists like Joey Terrill and Homo Riot. Together, the articles mentioned throughout this blog have been viewed around 14,376 times. By participating in knowledge creation for the most visited encyclopedia in the world, student editors are ensuring the legacy and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community is there for thousands to read about.


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