Historian John D'Emilio, who this past August retired from his post at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ), was the honoree at a two-day symposium celebrating his research and accomplishments Sept. 11-12.
A number of scholars from across the country, among them his longtime friend and co-author, Estelle Freedman, gathered to pay tribute to D'Emilio's work, much of which has focused on the history of the LGBT community.
D'Emilio began teaching at UIC in 1999. He was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2005.
In their opening remarks, speakers noted obstacles that D'Emilio faced in his research, since he was compiling the history of a community that had largely been driven underground. Jennifer Brier, director of the Gender & Women's Studies Program at UIC, in discussing his book, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, said, "To consider the impact of this book, consider the obstacles to writing a dissertation on gay history in the 1970s, when homosexuality remained either illegal or pathologized in most of the country."
One of D'Emilio and Freedman's books, Intimate Matters, was cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws.
"John is an illustrious scholar and activist whose impact on gay and lesbian social history in particularly has been life-changing, history-changing, policy-changing, law-changing and discipline-changing," said Atrida Orle Tantillo, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at UIC.
In the opening remarks to her keynote speech, Freedman said that even her most recent book, Redefining Rape, reflected her long history of working with D'Emilio.
"The work we did together shaped my own understanding, and my own work, on lesbian history, and women's history," she said. "I would not have survived graduate school and my early career, without John's friendship … I think you will detect John's influence."
Freedman spoke on how socio-cultural perceptions of rape have shifted over the course of American history, focusing on its being a fluid and malleable concept that nevertheless retained its original stigmas over time. She also addressed its relationship to citizenship, and its use in the context of legal change.
Shortly after Freedman's presentation, D'Emilio reflected on the gathering. "My mother told me I should never brag, or else curses would rain down on me," he said. "But it is just wonderful to hear these people say these wonderful things. It makes the hard work worth it."
See related story at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/DEmilio-symposium-examines-state-and-future-of-his-field/49033.html .