A couple of months now passed since my return from the University of Minnesota’s Archives, I feel it’s the right time to reflect on my experiences, share exciting discoveries, and discuss my future research aspirations. I started this journey during my Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Michigan when I decided to take a course titled “Queer and Trans Historicisms” within an American Culture Department. The course’s challenge to pursue a research project and apply for a research fellowship set me on a course to explore the intersection of social work history and transgender history.
This specific topic originated from a gap in the historical discourse surrounding social workers’ roles in the lives of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) individuals. While numerous scholars had delved into the history of medical doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in the context of TGD individuals, social work’s historical engagement with TGD issues had remained relatively uncharted both in the Transgender Studies literature and the Social Work History literature. I thought that the “Social Welfare History Archives” and the Clarke Chambers Fellowship would be a great start for my research topic.
The application process for the fellowship initially filled me with apprehension. As a non-Ph.D. student with no prior experience in historical research, I questioned my eligibility and qualifications. However, my concerns lessened as I learned that the Clarke Chambers Fellowship encouraged applications from individuals whose communities were documented in the archives. Working closely with the archivists for the Social Welfare History Archives and the YMCA Archive, we discussed potential research directions, and I submitted my application, ultimately receiving the fellowship.
My visit to the archives was eventful, with both intriguing discoveries and frustrating gaps. One particularly notable find had significant implications for LGBTQ+ research. Initially, I struggled to find any material related to TGD individuals in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of this, I expanded my search to issues concerning sexual orientation and the 1990s. This led me to two boxes labeled “7-11 Campaign,” which was recently donated by a faculty member of the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work. This campaign aimed to revise the Council of Social Work Education accreditation standards to have stronger language against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
My search revealed that 26 social work schools expressed support for this campaign, including my alma mater, the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. The Council of Social Work Education even sought a legal opinion on making changes. This opinion cited three primary reasons for the proposed changes being impermissible: the standard was deemed unreasonable, enforcement could be uneven, and the changes could potentially violate public policy and laws in various school locations.
In the end, despite the work invested in the campaign, the Council of Accreditation voted not to change the standards in 1991. This struggle resurfaced again in 1997 and 2001. These findings raised numerous questions regarding the social work profession’s history and its interactions with LGBTQ+ communities. Notably, why did the 7-11 Campaign lack any mentions of gender identity or expression? Why did it take so long for the educational institutions of social work to include this community? I also am curious to learn more about this campaign’s alignment with other key events in LGBTQ+ history, the involvement of LGBTQ+ students, and the distinctions between lesbian, gay, and bisexual organizing compared to TGD organizing.
While I left the archives with many questions, I am happy to report I came back with a newfound love and joy of engaging with historical methods. How incredible it is to find things that you didn’t expect which bring you into new ideas and different directions of thought. And at the same time, I can admit I returned home slightly frustrated. The sound of archival silence surrounding TGD experiences with social workers certainly feels like something to fill with screams of frustration.
So, while I can assume there will be many challenges in exploring this research, I remain optimistic that the untold stories within these archives will pave the way for a more inclusive future for TGD individuals and the social work profession.
ange baldado is currently an independent scholar and a limited licensed clinical social worker in the State of Michigan. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan, and a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She hopes to continue this research and publish her findings in an academic journal while in a Ph.D. program in the near future. She can be contacted at email@example.comLearn more about the Clarke Chambers Travel Fellowship.