On Tuesday, the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater filled with an audience of approximately 70 students, staff and faculty for the keynote speech of LGBTQ+ History Month delivered by Eric Marcus A peppy acoustic song played through the speakers: “Stay cool, young lovers, stay faithful and true. Don’t mess around with the opposite sex, it won’t do a thing for you.” The singer was Edythe Eyde, a woman also known by the tongue-in-cheek stage name Lisa Ben (an anagram of ‘lesbian’). A 30-year-old recording of her gay parody versions of popular songs of that era is featured in episode 3 of the Making Gay History Podcast, a popular oral history show with over 2.7 million episode downloads.
For the next hour, Eric Marcus, the founder and host of the podcast, shared clips of interviews, featuring a range of people from famed Stonewall activist Sylvia Rivera to lesser-known activists like Eyde. He spoke about his experience gathering the interviews and navigating life as a gay man in decades past. A journalist by trade and the author of over a dozen books, he got the idea to begin the podcast three years ago, when he lost his job. After sharing his archives of interviews he had gathered three decades ago while researching his book Making Gay History (originally published simply as Making History) with a friend, he decided to publish the recordings as a podcast.
Marcus had never been a fan of writing, despite his prolific career, and he found the format of a podcast to be freeing. “I think the people I interviewed 30 years ago were not satisfied with seeing their words in print,” he said. “I wanted to tell their stories in their own voices.” The podcast is also accessible to a broader audience — Marcus has received comments from listeners ranging from a truck driver in Texas to the Democratic Minority Leader of Wyoming.
To many attendees and listeners of the podcast, hearing LGBTQ+ activists and historical figures tell their stories aloud in their own voices was a powerful experience. “[Queer history is] an important topic area because [it] is something that … has historically been something that’s not recorded, or it’s misremembered, or it’s purposefully erased by systems of oppression.” said Timothy Bussey, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), who organized the event. “I think it’s important for us to honor the members of the queer and trans community who have really been able to make our world a safer and more inclusive place, but [this month is] also a way for us to learn about the variety of forms of activism that can influence how we continue to make progress both here on campus and in the world.”
Showing how far things had come,Bussey also announced at the beginning of the presentation that, after several semesters of work, the HIV-preventative drug PrEP was finally available for prescription on campus. Kenyon is the first place in Knox County to offer this medication.
Marcus ended the presentation by highlighting the importance of learning about LGBTQ+ history and building on the legacy of the activists featured in the podcast. “I’m now 60, almost 61—twice the age I was when I did this work … and now I have the opportunity to pass this ball to all of you,” Marcus said. He mentioned the importance of drawing on LGBTQ+ histories to influence current activism. “Why start from scratch when we have these people who can who can provide a roadmap? … If we don’t know where we’ve been, how can we know where we’re going?”