Q5 (#6): Susie R. Bock


Susie R. Bock

Susie R. Bock

Susie R. Bock is Head of Special Collections and Director of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine. She has almost 30-years experience managing primary materials and developed collections preserving the history of Maine’s LGBT communities. She was the recipient of the 2011 Friend of USM Women & Gender Studies Award.

Queer!NEA recently featured an interview with Ryan Conrad, a Concordia University PhD candidate who conducted a research and digitization project at the Sampson Center. I thank Susie for giving us an opportunity to learn more about the LGBT Collection at USM by sharing her own thoughts and perspectives.

Q1. Could you give one or two examples of the ways the collections have been utilized by researchers? How has your work and the work of scholars contributed to a better understanding of Maine’s LGBTQ history?

S.R.B. It has been used in 3 annual events in  2005, 2006, 2008 for the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine (the parent institution of the LGBT Collection). These events include an opening reception, lectures, exhibition and printed exhibition catalog. For digital resources from these events, go to

Our work has made it clear that LGBT people and culture exists throughout the community, whether that community is Caribou, Maine, or Portland, Maine or San Francisco. The LGBT community has changed as does the overall society, and reflects human history just as well. You can not understand any period of history without knowing all the stories, not just the dominant culture.

Q2. What would you say, if anything, is unique about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Collection at the University of Southern Maine? Does its focus on a smaller state such as Maine present any distinctive challenges or rewards?

Because the LGBT Collection is part of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, one sees clearly how any under-represented group, any minority, can suffer, and thus the principle of civil rights being absolute in the United States, not subject to the whims of the majority, is a bedrock that allows America to thrive.

Maine is a large state, with a small, disperse population. The internet had good and bad effects on the material culture we collect. Before the internet, people were forced to create local organizations and communicate by print. These all created tangible material to collect. The internet has replaced much of this activity, yet not created sustainable resources. However, the internet makes it easier to communicate and promote the LGBT Collection and has aided collection development.

Q3. The LGBT Collection, along with the African American Collection of Maine and the Judaica Collection, constitute the majority of the holdings of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. How does the mission of the LGBT Collection correlate with the work of the Center as a whole, and how can the LGBT holdings inform perspectives on civil rights as a whole in Maine?

The LGBT Collections makes Maine stand out in the study of civil rights. In what many would judge to be an American “back-water” in terms of culture and economics, is in fact the first state to pass anti-discrimination legislation by a general election. This would seem to infer, that everyone can understand and champion the importance of civil rights for all. That “life as it should be” means everyone is valued.

Q4. The Sampson Center has given out the Catalyst for Change and Lifetime Achievement Awards. What role do you and the Center seek to play in activism and social justice initiatives?

We preserve and make available the stories that can educate and empower activists. If you remember history, you are not doomed to repeat it.

Q5. Can you name a collection in the Sampson Center’s holdings that you find to be particularly interesting or noteworthy? If so, why do you think it is significant?

Yes, it is the series of LGBT collections that chronicle the local and then state fight for anti-discrimination legislation because it is a triumph of the best qualities of human nature. And this story gives me hope for the future.

Everyday, I love my job, because what I do matters.


news: scotus + marriage round-up


For your Tuesday morning, here’s some of the commentary that’s come across my desk regarding the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear any of the pending cases regarding marriage equality:

Nina Totenberg @ NPR’s Morning Edition: Supreme Court Declines to Take Up Gay Marriage Appeals.

Lyle Denniston @ SCOTUSBlog: Many More Same-Sex Marriages Soon, But Where?

With not a single dependable hint of its own constitutional view of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court in one fell swoop on Monday cleared the way for gays and lesbians to wed in a batch of new states — starting first in five more states, and probably adding six more in the coming weeks.  If that happens in all eleven, it will mean that same-sex marriages would then be legal in thirty states and Washington, D.C.

Amy Howe @ SCOTUSBlog: First Monday Surprise on Same-Sex Marriage: In Plain English.

We all assumed that the issue would be back again at the Court before too long, and that expectation only increased as lower federal courts around the country started to rely on the Court’s decision inWindsor to strike down other states’ bans on same-sex marriage – in Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin.   All told, by last Monday the Court had before it seven different petitions asking the Court to weigh in on whether states can prohibit same-sex marriage.  With all of the parties on both sides in all of the cases in agreement that the Supreme Court should take up the question, review seemed inevitable.

Until this morning at 9:30, when the Court turned down all seven of the petitions, without comment.

Paul Waldman @ The American Prospect: Is Nationwide Marriage Equality Now Inevitable? Almost But Not Quite.

But there is one scenario by which what today seems like an inevitable forward movement for marriage equality could be undone, and it may be the only hope conservatives have left. It involves a Republican winning the White House in 2016 and a liberal justice retiring, to be replaced by a conservative.

Amy Davidson @ The New Yorker: The Supreme Court’s Biggest Gay Marriage Decision.

It turns out, though, that the historic fifty-state case might already be on the books. Its name is Windsor v. United States and it was decided in the summer of 2013. Edith Windsor, a widow in her eighties, had challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which kept the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. In Windsor’s case, that meant that she was left with a large estate-tax bill when her wife, whom she had nursed through a long illness, died. (Ariel Levy wrote about Windsor’s wondrous marriage to Thea Spyer in her Profile “The Perfect Wife.”) Windsor won, with the help of her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. The thought at the time was that Windsor’s victory did not bring equality to any new state. (Although, arguably, no state truly had marriage equality before Windsor, given the constraints of DOMA.) But, as lower courts have read the Windsor decision, they have noticed that its language and legal reasoning, which invokes due process and equal protection, silently condemns state bans on same-sex marriage as well. And, one after the other, they’ve overturned those bans. If they keep doing so, the Supreme Court won’t have to rule again. (I’ve written about this possibility before.)

Got links? Drop ’em in comments! or send them in to queernea [at] gmail [dot] com.

news: civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of transgender workers


via RhRealityCheck

It’s the first time the federal government has sued to protect transgender rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In two complaints, filed Thursday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in federal courts in Michigan and Florida, the commission alleges that two employees faced workplace discrimination because they are transgender.

According to the EEOC, Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing a Garden City, Michigan, funeral director-embalmer because she is transgender. Amiee Stephens had been employed by Harris as a funeral director and embalmer since October 2007.