Western researchers study queer art, hidden history

Jacob Evoy and Amy Keating, researchers in Western’s department of gender,
Jacob Evoy and Amy Keating, researchers in Western’s department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, are studying queer history through art and oral interviews. (Submitted)
For Amy Keating, sharing the joy - not just the struggle - of the queer community is part of the power of art.

Keating, a researcher in the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, studies queer art and its importance, including the role of big events such as music festivals or art exhibitions. Keating, who uses they/them pronouns, is also interested in researching and archiving art that captures everyday moments in the community.

"A lot of the LGBTQ art that is prioritized is centered on experiences of trauma, oppression or victimization, which is an important part of working towards queer liberation," they said. "But I also think it’s important to focus on the more positive aspects of queer life, because it’s also a very joyous and beautiful life."

Keating, who successfully defended their doctoral dissertation in June, hopes to contribute to an archive of queerness, represented through art.

"Because the community was persecuted for most of history, and continues to be today, there aren’t many documents or records on what it is to be queer. That’s why I want to start creating and contributing to this growing archiving of queerness," Keating said.

"I think it’s important to have documents that archive queer history and experiences."

Their research has also shown how art can connect people and communities.

"I believe in the value of arts funding to build rich, diverse and beautiful communities. It is a human connector and is of such importance to queer and trans people." - Amy Keating, Western researcher, musician and writer

"I hope my research can encourage a more artistic and creative space for marginalized folks," they added.

Investigating queerness and intergenerational trauma

Researcher Jacob Evoy, who uses they/them pronouns, also successfully defended their doctoral dissertation last month and plans to share their work during Queer Research Day this fall, an annual event at Western showcasing graduate student research through presentations, academic posters and one-day programming across campus.

Evoy studied in the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies in Western’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities. They focus on the study of transitional justice - a response to human rights violations that seeks to recognize victims - in post-conflict resolution and intergenerational trauma and queerness.

Evoy developed an oral history of a marginalized group, interviewing 16 queer children of Holocaust survivors and gathering information on their life experiences as members of both Jewish and queer communities.

"There’s very little academic work done on LGBTQ+ children of Holocaust survivors, so I decided this needs to be my focus." - Jacob Evoy, Western researcher

Throughout the research, they discovered many children of survivors deal with pressure to have their own children.

"I learned there is strong emphasis in the Jewish community on the need to repopulate so that Hitler and the Nazis don’t ’win’" Evoy said. "Some share guilt about not having children, because another characteristic we see among the children of survivors is the worry about causing your parents further pain, as they have already suffered enough."

Evoy also found queer children of Holocaust survivors face discrimination in two forms - homophobia in the Jewish community and antisemitism in the queer community.

"A lot of the participants spoke about how they don’t really have a clear space where they can be their full selves. They navigated these realities and created their own spaces through the formation of queer children of survivors groups in the late 80s and 90s," Evoy said.

Some research subjects also discussed the AIDS epidemic, another era of tragedy that deeply affected one of their communities.

"I looked at how they navigated that period, especially because a lot of AIDS activism drew upon (resistance) symbolism during Nazi persecution of queer people," said Evoy.

"Understanding intergenerational trauma is crucial because it can then be used to influence future social policies. We need to be willing to understand history and the psychological effects of it in order to push the norms we’re yearning for, and advocate for proper inclusion and healing."