LGBTQ+ Activist Dr. John D’Emilio discusses book release with UMKC

Former professor, author and activist makes a stop at UMKC


Belle Yennie/Roo News

UMKC LGBTQIA Programs and Services provided resources for students at the event

Belle Yennie, Staff Writer

  Dr. John D’Emilio visited UMKC students on Feb. 16 at the Student Union to discuss his book, “Memories of A Gay Catholic Boyhood: Coming of Age in the Sixties.” The book was released on July 11, 2022, and shares his experience growing up during political movements that shaped his life. 

  UMKC’s LGBTQIA Programs & Services began the event with a reception at 5 p.m. to allow guests to mingle and meet the author. At 6 p.m. Curator of Labudde Special Collections Stuart Hinds introduced D’Emilio to the stage for the discussion. D’Emilio states his book didn’t begin as a novel, but as a compilation of important pieces of his past. 

  “I had triple bypass open heart surgery, and lying in the hospital the night before the surgery, literally wondering, would I be there the next day, I just found myself flooded by memories,” D’Emilio said. “In my free time, I just began writing up random memories that spoke to me in important ways.” 

  D’Emilio is a retired professor of history and gender and women’s studies from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Other books he wrote include “Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America,” “Queer Legacies: Stories from Chicago’s LGBTQ Archives” and “In a New Century: Essays on Queer History, Politics, and Community Life.” 

  Roo Groups records 27 guests registered for the event including faculty, students and outside attendees. However, freshman Dillon Potts wished to see more students attend. 

  “I feel like allies need to be able to be comfortable in an LGBTQ space and to sit and learn and listen,” Potts said. “It’s not like an exclusive event, it’s just learning about someone’s experience.” 

  D’Emilio is recognized for his academic work and activism involving LGBTQ+ history. He is a 2005 Brudner Prize recipient, which Yale University grants to scholars whose work contributed to LGBTQ+ communities. Additionally, D’Emilio is featured as the 2005 inductee to The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame

  Freshmen Victor Williams and Olivia O’Keefe describe how their childhoods were exclusively Catholic and creating acceptance with family can be difficult. A key point of the discussion displayed how there’s hope to hold Catholic values while simultaneously creating a space to be free. 

  “It’s really nice to hear from older queer people, to kind of know that we aren’t the first generation to go through a lot of this stuff,” Williams said.

  When students are struggling to find acceptance within themselves, D’Emilio tells them to utilize the resources offered through campus and even social media. Access to LGBTQ  information is more readily available than during his childhood. However, it’s important to recognize that there is still more progress to be made. 

  “Depending on the world that you grow up in, aspects of that world are still shockingly similar to the world I was growing up [during] the 50s and 60s,” D’Emilio said. 

  “Talk about this with other people who are not making judgments and who are taking in what you’re saying,” D’Emilio said. “[It’s] really one of the most profound ways to come to peace and acceptance of ‘okay, this is me.’”

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