Seattle’s Biopolitical Geographies

 

Professor Michael Brown and UW Tacoma colleague Larry Knopp have been getting a lot of media attention for their ongoing study,  “Biopolitical Geographies”. They are   investigating the relations in the Pre-AIDS era between Seattle’s Gay & Lesbian community and health-promotion agencies. The project engages with urban, political, and health geographies, as well as urban gay history

They are specifically exploring gays and lesbians’ relations and interactions with two parts of state/local governments: The Seattle-King County Public Health department and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, as well as  the community’s efforts in health promotion and self-regulation. Issues such as “VD” control, contact tracing, (spatial) regulation of gay bars and taverns, and behavior all are of interest. As Brown puts it,

We  are especially  interested in these two state agencies because while we know a lot about other arms of the state (for example, the City Council, Human Rights Commission, the Police, and the courts), less is known about these more everyday, behind-the-scenes agencies. Research on other cities, however, have suggested that these agencies had quite powerful effects on gays’ lives and community formation. Yet Seattle has a distinct political and cultural geography, so we’re interested in finding out specifics of this city. Indeed, preliminary findings are suggesting a more complicated set of relations than the academic literature would suggest! They resonate with recent theoretical work on the geographies of governmentality and biopower.

Brown goes on to explain that “We are interested in the Pre-AIDS era (approximately before 1983) in Seattle, because this was a time of great social change in sexuality and local governance. We are doing both archival research and interviews with people who remember “VD” control back then, were treated or contact-traced by SKCPH, dealt with the Seattle Gay Clinic; or folks who worked in, managed, owned, or just hung out in old Seattle gay bars, taverns, or lounges.

The 50 people interviewed so far have offered insights that include:

–          “Blue laws” that regulated liquor sales could have quite an effect on gay and lesbian spaces: they dictated the floor plans of taverns, their visibility to the street (important if people were “in the closet”), and even the conduct of patrons.

–          Lesbians were required to wear at least three articles of feminine clothing, or else they risked being kicked out of a bar for appearing too “butch.”

–          Health department investigators could be discreet, but were sometimes known to call the homes of closeted gay men who sought treatment for STDs – perhaps leaving a phone message with unassuming wives – to inquire about other sex partners.

“What’s emerging from our research is an understanding by bar owners and patrons of standards of behavior that had to be adhered to,” Knopp said. The liquor board had broad authority to control the conduct of patrons and even declare decorations in bars or restaurants to be too sexually suggestive, he added.

The board was allowed to enforce “the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law,” Knopp said, giving plenty of wiggle room to reflect the pervasive homophobic attitudes at the time.

Like the TV character Sal Romano in “Mad Men,” many gay Seattleites in the pre-AIDS era were in the closet, married and outwardly living as straight people. They feared losing their jobs or housing, being physically assaulted, being subjected to derision from family and friends, and other consequences of living an openly gay life.

Even in liberal Seattle, many people at the time considered homosexuality a moral failure or mental illness.

“Just because it’s a liberal city doesn’t mean that there wasn’t moral regulation,” Brown said. “We want to know how gay men and lesbians interacted with local policies related to day-to-day life.”

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (#1059732), endorsed by the Northwest Lesbian & Gay History Project, and Approved by the UW Human Subjects Division.

If you are interested in being interviewed, please contact michaelb@uw.edu . Interviews are anonymous and confidential, transcripts will be returned for your editing. They take less than an hour and can be done at a time and place of your convenience. Thanks!

Link to UW News Story on this research project

Link to Seattle Weekly article

Geography Undergrad Sam Nowak Selected for NSF Summer Research Experience

Geography undergrad Sam Nowak was selected to participate in the highly selective Georgia State University Community-Soil-Air-Water Research Experience for Undergraduates, funded by the  National Science Foundation. This is a unique research training experience, focusing on community geography, university-community partnerships and participatory methodologies. This research project examines community housing, urban green spaces, and urban environmental quality. More details about the research project can be found below. Congratulations Sam!


Participation in the 2012 Georgia State University CSAW Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program funded by the National Science Foundation
http://csaw.gsu.edu/nsf-reu/ <http://csaw.gsu.edu/nsf-reu/>

The Georgia State University Community-Soil-Air-Water (CSAW) Research Initiative is proud to host the Summer 2012 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site funded by The National Science Foundation Award #1156755, the Georgia State University Honors College, and the University of West Georgia.  The REU Site: Addressing Social and Environmental Disparities through Community Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a multi-disciplinary program that brings together 16 outstanding undergraduate students from around the country to Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA) for a 6 week intensive research program.  With an explicit focus on community geography, university-community partnerships and participatory methodologies, the research training program is the first of its kind for undergraduates in the United States.  Undergraduate researchers, working in one of three research tracks <http://csaw.gsu.edu/nsf-reu/research-tracks/> , will quantitatively and qualitatively examine neighborhood change, property markets, air and soil quality, urban green spaces, and neighborhood visioning in partnership with neighborhood residents and community groups.
REU Research Track 1: Mapping property dynamics in South Atlanta with Charis Community Housing.  Leaders:  Katherine Hankins, Timothy Hawthorne, Kate Derickson, GSU geography; Andy Walter, University of West Georgia (archival work in consultation with Joe Hurley, GSU library sciences)

REU Research Track 2: Mapping green spaces in the Lakewood neighborhood with Trees Atlanta. Leaders:  Leslie Edwards and Timothy Hawthorne, GSU geography (archival work in consultation with Joe Hurley, GSU library sciences)

REU Research Track 3: Mapping urban environmental quality in the neighborhoods of Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Summerhill, Adair Park, and Peoplestown with SAFE (South Atlanta for the Environment).  Leaders:  Dan Deocampo, GSU geology; John Steward, GSU Institute of Public Health; and Katherine Hankins, GSU geography

Student Selection & Compensation: Selection for the 2012 CSAW REU site was based on a competitive, nationwide search of 204 highly-qualified undergraduate students. The selected CSAW Community Scholars share the following traits: a deep interest in engaged, community-based research; an inquisitive and creative mindset; and a desire to contribute to new directions in community geography scholarship.  As part of participation in the program, each CSAW Community Scholar receives a competitive funding package, including: a $3000 stipend for participation in the six week program, up to $250 in travel support to/from Atlanta, up to $750 for conference presentations at a major national meeting, free room and board at Georgia State University, and 3 required texts.