In a year-long book project, Political Science Professor Karen Kampwirth wants to shed light on Nicaraguan LGBT history and help dispel the idea that LGBT movements and people originated in the Global North.
Kampwirth, along with her co-author Victoria Gonzalez-Rivera, Associate Professor of Chicano and Chicana Studies at San Diego State University, recently received an American Council of Learned Studies Collaborative Research Fellowship that will enable her to spend the next year completing “One Hundred Years of LGBT History in Nicaragua: Stories from the Global South,” a study on the untold history of LGBT life in Nicaragua, and fund a translation for Nicaraguan audiences.
Kampwirth intends to create a new history of Nicaragua, told through the lens of gender and sexuality. The fact that LGBT rights movements have traditionally originated in affluent countries has been used to other queer people in Nicaragua and other South American countries, who actually prefer the term “sexual diversity.”
“As soon as you leave the Global North, people who are sort of marginalized and who are demanding rights — and I would strongly include women in this category as well as LGBT people — get accused all the time of, ‘Oh, you’re trying to imitate those Americans’ or … ‘we don’t really have a tradition of gay people, they just got that idea from the north,’” Kampwirth said. “So part of it is political backlash against them, of trying to present them as inauthentic, like they’re not really Nicaraguan.”
Kampwirth described how the dominant narrative of the Stonewall riots has both aided gay rights movements in other countries and eclipsed similar resistances that occurred even earlier.
“Generally, these kinds of movements are easier in richer countries where people have more resources. So they’re up against this dominant story and also they are benefited by LGBT-friendly people in richer countries who are willing to sometimes give them grants to help them with their work. So they benefit from this. On the other hand, they’re also, simultaneously, hurt by this story that’s told that this all started in the North and ‘this isn’t our traditional culture.’”
Kampwirth and Gonzalez-Rivera undertook the project in 2011. Since then it has gained significant interest in Nicaragua, where Kampwirth suspects it will be read by a wide audience. The fellowship will cover the cost of translation as well as publication. For Kampwirth, this may be the most important part of the project.
“The Spanish language audience is a very different audience. It’s political activists, people in the movement, but also a lot of other people who are just interested in their own country. I mean, I imagine it will probably be used for college courses, certainly college students will read it, but it’s got a much bigger audience.”
Kampwirth will use her full year sabbatical to finish writing the book, returning to Knox occasionally.
“It’s a useful thing for them to have somebody tell their history,” Kampwirth said. “So that this will be a way that they will be able to every time they get that kind of pushback, which they do and probably will continue to, say, ‘Look, we’ve always been here.’”