Preserving History through Video Storytelling
Associate Professor Denise Bennett is collecting oral histories from members of Idaho’s LGBTQ community to preserve history and enact social change.
The year 2016 was a horrific one for the family and friends of Steven Nelson.
Nelson, who was openly gay, died of a cardiac arrest on April 29, 2016 after being robbed and beaten near Lake Lowell in Nampa, Idaho. Compelled to action, Denise Bennett, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Media and a documentary filmmaker, is using Nelson’s death as a catalyst for social change.
Nelson graduated from the University of Idaho in 2011, and was a student of Bennett’s. He worked with her often, and the two became friends after he graduated.
“What compelled me to make the film about his murder was the fact that Idaho is one of few states that doesn’t protect the LGTBQ community in their civil rights act in terms of hate crimes,” Bennett said.
The scope of the project soon quickly grew.
“I spoke with the local representative here, Tom Lamar, and he thought it would be a good idea to get the oral history project that we’re working on to some more local representatives and try to make change at a more grassroots level,” Bennett said.
Bennett is working with the , a partnership between the University of Idaho Library and U of I’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Studies, to collect, digitize and archive oral histories from members of the LGBTQ community across Idaho.
Since 2017, Bennett has traveled across Idaho, conducting interviews with members of the LGBTQ community who are willing to speak about their experience. “We want to get a contemporary and diverse history represented,” Bennett said. “The goal is to document histories in every county of Idaho.”
Collecting Stories Throughout Idaho
As of January 2018, Bennett has collected 32 oral histories.
One of the first participants in the project was Nicole LaFavor, the first openly gay senator in Idaho.
“This person I interviewed in Sandpoint said ‘I would tell you my story, but I didn’t come out till I was 40.’ And that’s the story, that’s interesting!” Bennett said.
University of Idaho alumnus Michael Kirk ‘71 also contributed to the project. Kirk also studied in the School of Journalism and Mass Media, and created a documentary called “Sweet Land of Liberty” about the LGBTQ community on the Palouse.
“He gave us permission to digitize and archive that and put it in our collection as well, so that’s pretty cool,” Bennett said.
Bennett has been reaching out to anyone in Idaho willing to tell their story, including working with the Pride Foundation, which gave her a $4,000 grant for her work.
“We intend to develop an online portal for all of these interviews, so that these will be available kind of freely and searchable,” CDIL Director Devon Becker said.
In addition to oral histories, Bennett is working with the University of Idaho Library and the Latah County Historical Society to collect physical materials for the archive. This includes photographs, scrapbooks, journals and other memorabilia related to the LGBTQ experience in Idaho.
“I mean, I’m just excited to give voice to this community,” Becker said.
“It’s history. I want to document history.” Bennett said. “It’s just getting the word out and convincing people their life is interesting enough to tell.”
Article by Alexandria Arritt ‘20, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences
Published in June 2018
Support the Project
In August 2017, Bennett received a $30,000 matching grant from the National Endowment of Humanities (NEH). To receive the full value of the grant, Bennett must raise money from other organizations and private individuals. The grant funds travel expenses, pays for technical equipment, and pays students to transcribe the recorded interviews. As of June 2018, Bennett has raised more than $15,000. To support this project, (select “Idaho’s LGBTQ Community Oral History Project” as the designation).
Be a Part of Idaho’s First LGBTQ Archive
To participate in an oral history recording, contact Denise Bennett at 111-310-0334 or [email protected].
To donate your materials or to have them digitized for the archive and then returned to you, contact Erin Passehl Stoddart at 111-111-5813 or [email protected].