Stephanie Meredith, Ph.D. (she/her/ella) is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at West Los Angeles College and chair of gAyABA. She is chair of the Inclusivity and Equity Alliance Focused Inquiry Group and co-advisor of the Queer and Allies Club at West Los Angeles College.
Ed note: The American Association of Physical Anthropology recently became the American Association of Biological Anthropologists—and thus gAyAPA is now gAyABA—hence the temporary disconnect between title-name and amazing gorilla logo.
How did gAyABA begin, and how did you get involved with it?
gAyABA began in 2013 at the Knoxville meetings of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists (AABA, formerly the American Association of Physical Anthropologists), when Evan Garofolo, Loring Burgess, and I met to discuss the creation of a queer interest and advocacy group under the auspices of the larger AABA Committee on Diversity. We started with the overt support of the Committee on Diversity led by Susan Antón and Agustín Fuentes.
What has gAyABA been involved with so far?
Most of our work has revolved around increasing the visibility of queer members and allies and creating community and a support network for queer members. We have a yearly button at the annual meetings for which we collect donations. These buttons have become quite a hit over the years, with some people invested in maintaining a "complete set." Because the buttons have magnetic attachments, they also make good refrigerator and file cabinet magnets, and I've seen them on a good many home refrigerators and office file cabinets. This effort has really increased the visibility of the queer and ally community, and it has been bouying to regularly see the association's officers sporting our buttons.
We (and by we, I mean Chris Schmitt and Jonathan Bethard) have also arranged and collected donations for an annual social outing, and all of those donations have been gifted to a youth queer advocacy group in the city of our annual meetings. Since this annual event began in 2015 we've donated a total of more than $1,400, apportioned to Growing American Youth St. Louis, Lost-N-Found ATL, BreakOUT New Orleans, OutYouthAustin, and the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. Due to the cancellation of our in-person meetings in 2020 and our remotely held meetings in 2021, our donations have been on hiatus, but we expect to resume them in 2022 in Denver.
We also serve as an informal information network that can be tapped by students and faculty about such things as queer safety in fieldwork.
What do you want LGBTQ+ scientists to know about gAyABA?
We're here, we're queer, and we're interested in building connections! I've had a lot of conversations with Q+ scientists who are interested in starting up a similar organization within their primary professional organization. We're always happy to swap stories, to share our successes and our less-than-successes, and happy to hear about what's working well for your organization. I think these kinds of connections across organizations can be really useful. Through my informal connections with AQA (the Association for Queer Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association), I was once able to connect one of our members to a cultural anthropologist who studied queer issues in the area of the world where our member's research was going to take place. Our member was able to get advice from an expert on something of concern to them.
What's next for gAyABA?
One of the things we've learned about ourselves is that, to some degree, the thing we all like the most about gAyABA is seeing each other. This year, we've decided to run with that and start holding a fall and winter virtual, casual meeting via Zoom. We'll use it as a platform to allow Q+ graduate students to share their research and get friendly feedback. We also hope to use it as a mechanism to create allyship with the IDEAS program (Increasing Diversity in the Evolutionary Anthropological Sciences) of the AABA by inviting IDEAS graduate students to present their research at our informal remote gatherings.
Has there been anything challenging or surprising that you’ve learned or experienced while doing this work?
Challenge: We all have great ideas about how we can change the world to make it a better place for ourselves and our colleagues, but no one actually has time to carry them out around our actual research. It's frustrating. We all want to do more, but we really just don't have time to!
Surprises: I've been surprised by what I interpret as cohort effects. There are a handful of us who are about the same age/career stage who've been involved with gAyABA from its inception. We're no longer "youngins;" we're middle-aged and approaching mid-career. As far as I know (and I've had conversations about this with more than one of these people), few if any of us considered our queerness to be something to be concerned about within the context of the association. I certainly didn't, because I had always been out at AABA meetings (as had my wife) and it was a total non-issue. As we grew from a membership of three to around 50, I regularly heard from early stage students how relieved they were to discover that there was a Q+ group. Since much of American society has become so much more accepting of Q+ people in the two decades that I've been a member of the association, I would have thought that scholars entering the field wouldn't give it a second thought. But I've been wrong about that a lot. I've also been surprised by non-participation from more senior scholars. We have a lot of vocal allies who are more senior than the middle-aged, mid-career gAyABA cohort, but few to none of the senior scholars who might identify as LGBTQ+ have joined us. I suppose I understand that—they found their ways to be gay long ago, and if it ain't broke ... .
Delights: I have been beyond delighted with, over the moon because of, enraptured by how thoroughly and visibly supportive of our community so many of our field's senior scholars and our association's leaders have been. There's nothing cooler than when a giant in your field, a senior scholar you've always admired, president of the association, says to you, a postdoc, "Hey, where can I get one of those rainbow buttons?" There's nothing cooler than when one of the most well-known illustrators in your field says, "Sure, you can put a rainbow flag on my illustration! And would you like some of my other illustrations that might work for your buttons?" The ways in which our colleagues have wholeheartedly supported gAyABA has made me really proud to be a member of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists.