Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

Kentucky history; southern studies; media history; gay press; gay journalism; queer history


As the queer historical discipline grows in reach, prominence, and scholarship, southern queer histories are on the tail end of this growing academic attention. Academic historians, digital humanists, and public historians alike have neglected Kentucky’s rich queer history in academic circles. This thesis aims to mend this gap in historic interpretation through research in Kentucky gay press, television, radio, and their effect on Kentucky’s queer organizing. Through extensive primary research in the Williams-Nichols archive, and secondary sources on the women in print movement, queer rurality, and gay media studies, this thesis measures the ways Kentucky queer communities have correlated with original gay newspapers, public access television stations, and radio shows in the mid to late twentieth century. This thesis is an expansion of the project: a digital mapping initiative that began in the summer of 2018 and plotted over three hundred different sites of queer significance in Kentucky. While spatial humanities, digital humanities, and public history informed the initial stages of this research, we approach our sources with a new lens of queer southern studies and media studies. While the previous project plotted out the dots on the map, this thesis connects them through gay press and communications. At an intersection of queer history, southern studies, media history, and public history, this project argues the importance of interdisciplinary lenses in mapping and defining Kentucky’s queer past, present, and future.

Lay Summary

As a note on terminology, this thesis uses the labels “LGBTQ,” “LGBT,” “gay,” and “queer” interchangeably. The primary sources referenced in this work most often use the term “gay” to describe themselves and their organizations, so this term is most frequently used. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer groups were all included in the term “gay,” as gay – much like the word “queer” today – was used to encompass experiences and expressions we would most likely label more specifically under “bisexual” or “transgender” today. The linguistics and labels of the queer community are still fluctuating, but the following manuscript takes care in presenting peoples and organizations mentioned with the languages self-described in the times active. Furthermore, specific names and addresses censored for privacy reasons in some primary sources are still censored in this thesis. For the respect of people’s living and dead, dead names of persons who identified as transsexual or transgender are also not included in this work. As dead names are names assigned to trans people at birth that usually do not reflect the person’s true gender identity, it is disrespectful to trans people to include names they denounced later in life.

This thesis also uses “southern” and “rural” somewhat interchangeably but makes careful distinctions when necessary. This thesis is meant to bring complexity to the stereotype of a simple, monolithic South, so this author distinguishes between the urban South and the rural South when needed in the text. Also, Kentucky’s place in the American South is still highly debated, as Kentucky was technically a border state during the Civil War. However, even if we were officially a border state does not mean we were neutral in the conflict: like the rest of the South, Kentucky had plantations growing tobacco, distilling bourbon, and more. This author counts Kentucky as a crossroads between the Midwest, the North, and the South all in one, especially when considering the Ohio River’s necessity for trade throughout the colonial era and earlier. The state has larger historical roots in the South compared to the North and Midwest, as well as similar political systems and policies. Thus, Kentucky has pieces of itself in all these regions, but should be considered a part of the South first and foremost.

In terms of methodology, “spatial humanities” are trends in the larger humanist disciplines – including but not limited to language arts, history, philosophy, anthropology, political science, and literature – that shift academic ways of categorizing the humanities not through chronological methods, but rather through geographical means. Comparatively, “digital humanities” prioritize digital, accessible projects and modes of showcasing historical patterns. Many spatial humanists overlap tools with digital humanists, such as ArcGIS programs for digital mapping. These methods show a “spatial turn” in the humanities that take into account cultural and social landscapes and borders.