Older LGBTQ of Color Activists Celebrated in a Publication
When Professor Juan Battle realized that a cohort of LGBTQ of color activists was “just aging out,” he decided to capture their stories in an oral history project.
Last summer, Presidential Professor Juan Battle (GC/CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies; Sociology, Urban Education, Social Welfare/Urban Studies) learned that a mentor of his, an LGBTQ person of color and an activist, had suddenly passed away. Battle realized that a cohort of activists was, as he put it, “just aging out.”
His first thought was to identify 10 or 15 of these activists, put them in front of a microphone, and capture the stories of their lives. But the project quickly evolved. Battle and his research partners — public policy consultant Marjorie Hill and John Jay Professor Antonio (Jay) Pastrana Jr. (Ph.D. ’08, Sociology) — trained 35 researchers, most of whom were CUNY students, who in the course of a year interviewed 150 LGBTQ people of color over 50 years old.
The students — who were enrolled in one of three qualitative methods courses: an undergraduate class at Hunter, a master’s class at Hunter, and a course at the Graduate Center — learned how to use Atlas.ti to analyze their qualitative data. Each student wrote a term paper based on their data. The student papers went through two rounds of peer review, and 20 were selected for additional consideration from external blind reviewers. Ultimately nine papers were chosen to be included in a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships, guest edited by Battle.
The biggest takeaway from the research: “People were flattered to be asked,” Battle says. “Many felt their stories weren’t heroic or impressive, yet they felt their stories were important.” This is a cohort, Battle says, that doesn’t receive enough attention, and “what attention it receives is usually under the aegis of pathology: depression, HIV/AIDS, discrimination, etc. They don’t get to just celebrate their lives, to talk about their triumphs instead of their troubles.”
For the students, the project didn’t just teach them about middle-aged and older LGBTQ people of color. They also learned about the entire research process: collecting data analyzing it, drafting a research paper, going through the peer review process, and seeking publication. “When I first started on this project, I was new to everything — new to the Graduate Center, new to New York, to this kind of area of professional work,” says Rose Porter, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Sociology program who worked as one of two project managers for Battle and is the author of one of the papers that will be published. “This taught me how these kinds of large-scale survey projects work and run, and that was very valuable to me.”
Battle says the project resonated with students — most of whom were decades younger than the people they interviewed — in part because of their close connection to the finished work. “So often, when you take a course as a student, it’s not applied to anything beyond the purpose of that class, and once you get the grade the whole thing goes away,” he says. “The fact that they were a part of something that was going to last longer than their participation was exciting to them.”
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