By Terrance Loewl
Hello! I’m Terrance Loewl! I am a senior at Nashville Big Picture High School. I can hardly wait to graduate and start studying to be an anthropologist. However, these days I am mostly looking forward to my capstone project. These projects are a way for students at our school to make a change in the community before they graduate. My project is titled Filling In the Blanks: Combating LGBTQ+ Erasure Through Archaeology. It’s an all day event where high school and college students get the chance to learn more about LGBTQ+ history and bias in archaeology.
I was fourteen when I first heard about the Stonewall Riots. I was scrolling through Tumblr, a social media platform, when I saw gifs from the Drunk History episode about Marsha P. Johnson. I was immediately covered in goosebumps and I felt joy spread through me. I felt empowered in a way I had never felt before. Then it was gone as quickly as it came. I felt empty. Why haven’t I heard about this before? Why was I seeing it on social media? Why did I have to learn about this from Drunk History?
Something clicked in me. Learning more about marginalized history and how/why it was swept under the rug became my biggest passion. I honed in on queer history when we started a social justice project at my school. While I wanted to learn more about Stonewall, I also really wanted my classmates to see my transgender identity had history. With my senior capstone project I really wanted to shift from trying to make people see that I am valid to helping others in the LGBTQ+ community feel valid and safe. I started out wanting to use my senior capstone to help create more LGBTQ+ clubs in public schools in Nashville. Then I realized everything I wanted to do had already been done in some shape or form. I also wanted to include history. I had the chance to promote a piece of marginalized history, and I needed to take it. With the help of Dr. Tiffiny Tung (Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University) and Gabe Oré (Graduate student, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University), the idea of Filling In the Blanks was born.
Filling In the Blanks:Combating LGBTQ+ Erasure Through Archaeology is an all day conference that provides an opportunity for high school and college students to learn about LGBTQ+ history. Three amazing speakers have volunteered from both Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University to present. Students will hear about lesbian identities in the 1920s, activism following the AIDS epidemic, and LGBTQ+ political movements in 1960s. Another session that will be available is going create a discussion about bias in the field of archaeology surrounding sexuality and gender. As well as how this bias affects us today. Students will then be divided into groups and will write skits about a session they attended. They will be assisted by members of the local theatre community. Next, they will present these skills for a chance to win a prize!
One of the greatest things about this project was realizing how many resources within the LGBTQ+ community I already had. I had connections at Nashville in Harmony, a doctor who helps trans patients, Vanderbilt University, and the Oasis Center’s LGBTQ+ youth programs- all of whom have assisted in this process in some way or another. My biggest take away from my research is the role that colonialism has played in homo- and transphobia. I‘ve been considering this becoming my focus in my career. The hardest part for me has been collecting donations. Asking for money is not something I enjoy.
I can’t wait for Filling In the Blanks. I really hope that those who come will learn something new or see themselves in history. I hope that they can feel empowered the way I did when I first heard about LGBTQ+ history.