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Professor Honored by AU’s GLBTA Resource Center

By Shana Klein

Bob Connelly.

It was December 1, 2008, when Professor Bob Connelly realized his LGBT Issues course was having an impact. Two days before class, he had invited 83-year-old gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny to speak to his students. “We had been studying Frank’s activism all semester,” Connelly recalls, “so I dashed off an e-mail announcing that he would be speaking to us, and asked that a couple of students meet us at the entrance to the Ward Building to escort him up to our classroom while I parked the car. When we pulled up to the building, every single student was waiting outside in the frigid weather to greet us. Many had brought friends to listen to Frank’s talk. I was overwhelmed.”

The evening was an emotional validation of ten years of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender research. While obtaining his MFA in film and electronic media at AU, Connelly worked as a production assistant on the 1999 historical documentary film, “After Stonewall: From the Riots to the Millennium.” One of his assignments was to conduct phone interviews with prospective gay and lesbian participants. Fascinated by their stories, he found a way to incorporate independent studies of historical LGBT documentary films into his graduate coursework. The culmination was the creation of Survey of Gay and Lesbian Documentary Film, believed to be the first academic course of its kind, offered in the School of Communication beginning in 2001.

Five years later, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program (WGST) invited Connelly to design a course involving topics of importance to the LGBT community that would enhance the program’s curriculum as WGST evolved into the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. He began teaching LGBT Issues in 2006, which explores the derivations, development, and interdependence of LGBT activism.

Connelly currently teaches History of the LGBT Movement and Gay and Lesbian Documentary—two classes that focus on the historical milestones of the LGBT community’s fight for equality. “I think that when we learn about the struggles and inequalities that marginalized populations have endured, we can come to a greater understanding of the individual members of those groups, and hopefully a greater acceptance of them,” Connelly told the The Eagle in 2011. That Washington, D.C., is home to LGBT policy-making is a great benefit to the course. Guest speakers who are experts on same-sex marriage, the right to privacy, employment nondiscrimination and other issues address his History of the LGBT Movement class to provide frontline perspectives.

AU’s GLBTA Resource Center presented Bob Connelly with its Faculty and Staff Award in 2004 and again in 2011. He’s also been invited to speak about LGBT representations in the media at other colleges, high schools, news outlets, and gay and lesbian non-profit organizations. In 2008, he delivered the keynote address at Colgate University’s Lavender Graduation for LGBT students.

“American University has given me a unique opportunity to continue my scholarship beyond the classroom,” says Connelly, who works as a researcher at the National Geographic Channel. “The support of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program is an endorsement of the LGBT Movement’s significance in our culture, and a respected platform for my work.” That work includes gay and lesbian documentary film analyses for AU’s Center for Social Media, LGBT filmmaker profiles for the Independent Feature Project, and guest blogs for the Advocate, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and other websites.

Connelly recognizes that the tide is rapidly changing for LGBT people in the United States. “Since I started teaching ten years ago, we’ve seen states pass same-sex marriage legislation, sodomy laws overturned with the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s an exciting time to be teaching about LGBT issues,” says Connelly.

The discourse in his classes has evolved as well. “I’m always struck by how knowledgeable and passionate my students are when it comes to LGBT civil rights,” he remarks. “In the past few years, their interest in transgender equality has become a main focus of our discussions. Of course, I’m not surprised. AU is one of the most politically active campuses in the country.”

Bob Connelly is grateful that his classes resonate with students, even beyond their graduation. When Frank Kameny passed away in October 2011, dozens of former students wrote to him to express their condolences. “It was as if they had lost a member of the family,” Connelly recalls. “That level of emotional intimacy with course material is rare. Teaching doesn’t get more rewarding.”