George Chauncey

My commitment: Making LGBT history personal

I want my students to connect the long-silenced history of LGBT people to their lives. One of the most surprising and remarkable moments of my work as an educator happens when I teach a large lecture course. There’s just an immediate connection between me and all the students, even if there are 150 people in the room. That sort of proverbial moment when you could hear a pin drop. It happens only a few times a year, but it’s most powerful the day I lecture about AIDS.

Although I don’t expect my students to know much about lesbian and gay history, it first startled me to realize an experience so searing to my generation was ancient history to theirs. Most students today don’t know many people with HIV or AIDS; it’s a pretty alien experience to them. I want students to grasp what this epidemic was like as a social as well as individual tragedy. I hope this history helps them see the progresses and barriers LGBT people live with today.