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R. Steve Dick/University Relations

Tami Albin, undergraduate instruction and outreach librarian, is undertaking a project to document the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Kansans.

'Under the Rainbow' to collect stories, preserve history of gay Kansans

To combat what she thinks is a flawed national perception of Kansas, a KU faculty member is documenting the everyday lives and experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people who live in the state.

Tami Albin, undergraduate instruction and outreach librarian at KU, received a two-year grant in September from KU's Center for Research to start "Under the Rainbow: Oral Histories of GLBTIQ People in Kansas." Albin, who came to Kansas six years ago from Canada, said she started the project because she was tired of GLBTIQ people outside of Kansas referring to the Midwest as an isolated and lonely location for GLBTIQ people.

"Kansas has its issues," Albin said. "But so does New York. So does Washington."

So she set out to examine why GLBTIQ people choose to live in Kansas. The Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law used Census data to determine there were about 72,500 gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Kansas, or about 2 percent of the state's total population, as of 2005.

Nationally, about 2.9 percent of people are gays, lesbians or bisexuals, according to Census data.

Albin's plan was to conduct audio and video interviews with residents of all parts of the state and put the collection on KU ScholarWorks, a digital repository for scholarly work created by faculty and staff at the university. KU ScholarWorks allows people from across the globe to access KU research and helps assure it will be available for years to come.

As if that part of the project wasn't daunting enough, Albin added another element involving KU students.

She collaborated with Milton Wendland, a doctoral student in American studies who this semester is teaching a course titled Studies In: Gay and Lesbian Cultures in the United States. Together, they devised a way for the 32 students in the class to contribute to the project.

The students are developing research projects using resources from the historical collections at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The projects will connect Albin's oral histories to major GLBTIQ events in Kansas history.

"They chose their own topics," Wendland said. "Some had a clear idea of what they wanted to do, some had no idea. But as long as they could relate it to Tami's project it was pretty much open."

Some of the topics the students will examine include gay-straight alliances in high schools, domestic violence, gay athletes and National Coming Out Day. Wendland's hope is that the class project will help students learn skills in time management, conducting research and public speaking.

"This is not just a term paper," Wendland said. "This is something they can point to throughout their lives."

In addition, some of the students will use the project to earn certification from KU's Center for Service Learning, which allows students to utilize their classroom skills to meet community needs and earn recognition on their transcripts at the same time. One component of earning certification is completing an independent project.

When it's finished, "Under the Rainbow" will be the first oral history project of its kind on ScholarWorks because of its multimedia elements and because of the ability to link from the oral histories to directly related research and facts. Albin hopes to have the project online by the fall.

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