To celebrate the release of Diana Souhami's book No Modernism Without Lesbians, Women and Children First hosted a "Documenting LGBTQ+ Histories" virtual panel May 16.
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives volunteer curator, academic writing instructor and higher education learning designer Heather Brown moderated the event. Panelists included Souhami; Windy City Times co-founder/Chicago Reader co-publisher Tracy Baim; and Stanford University Walter A. Haas Humanities professor, writer and critic Terry Castle.
Women and Children First co-owner Lynn Mooney kicked off the discussion by acknowledging the Indigenous land the bookstore occupies.
At one point during the event, Souhami was asked why she decided to write about certain lesbiansNatalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Bryher (the pen name of Annie Winifred Ellerman) and Gertrude Steinwho lived in Paris between the World Wars.
Souhami said she could have chosen 40 lesbians to write about but these four stood out to her because of "how different they all were" even from each other, adding that they had to find their own chosen families away from their hometowns. She added that Bryher, who chose a gender-neutral name, possibly would have identified as transgender if alive today; Bryher hated wearing dresses and having long hair, and thought they were born in the wrong body.
Castle and Souhami had a free-flowing conversation about the people in the book. Some had the financial means to move from the U.S. to Paris when other LGBTQ people did not, and that likely shaped their perception of the world. Castle and Souhami also spoke about lesbian writer Patricia Highsmith, whom Castle is researching and Souhami met long ago.
Baim said Chicago has always been a place of refuge for LGBTQ people. She added that what Henry Gerber was doing in Chicago with the creation of the Society for Human Rights in the 1920sand the first U.S. publication for queer people (Friendship and Freedom)was an example of this phenomenon, as was Women and Children First Bookstore. Gerber was influenced by Magnus Hirshfeld's Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in Germany, and served in the U.S. Army in Germany in World War I.