Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day. As GLBT people, we are one of the few minorities that is invisible unless we speak up. In honor of the day, I thought it might be interesting to talk today with some of my friends and fellow genealogy professionals who also happen to be gay. I am often asked about the Gay Mafia in genealogy. The truth is that there is no such thing. There are a number of professional genealogists out there who are openly gay. We serve on the boards of local, state, and national genealogical organizations. I think part of this is that as members of a minority community, we are used to donating our time to organizations. It is natural that this transfers over to our professional work as well.
The three people I talked to are of different ages and from different parts of the country. Three of us make our livings solely from genealogy, while one is a full-time university librarian and a professional genealogist. One of us is married, one is in a long-term relationship, one is in a new relationship, and one is single.
Thomas MacEntee, from Chicago, prefers to refer to himself as a genealogy professional instead of a professional genealogist, as he does not take clients. He focuses on education, writing, and lecturing, with some consulting services as well. His newest venture is the Hack Genealogy website. His research interests include New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Huguenots. Drew Smith of Tampa, Florida, (one of the Genealogy Guys) focuses on genealogy and technology, DNA, and social media also. His ancestry is mostly southern, with a bit of Yankee thrown in. Nick Gombash, from suburban Illinois, says that “My absolute passion is anything related to Hungary, but particularly nobility research.”
I was surprised to discover that I am the old-timer when it comes to research. I started 25 years ago, Thomas and Drew about 20 years ago, and Nick started 13 years ago. Each of us has spent many hours volunteering in various capacities. I couldn’t begin to list all of the activities each of us has been involved in, but one thing Thomas, Drew, and I have in common is that we have each served on the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. And in 2010 Nick founded the Hungary Exchange as a means of providing free access to indexes and records for researchers. It now has more than 600 members.
Thomas has also been asked about the “gay genealogy mafia.” When I asked him how being gay might have influenced his work in genealogy, he said:
“To me, it makes sense that there would be many gay men and women in the field since, for the most part, our demographic has the availability of more disposable income and more personal time to commit to a hobby like genealogy since many of us opt not to raise children. While my being gay – and self-identified as gay – has not always been easy, for the most part, there has been general acceptance from the genealogy community and, what might surprise some, strong support from my LDS friend. I have had some vendors refuse to work with me because of the “gay issue” but I figured that was their loss and besides, it is a free country and if that is why you don’t want to work with someone, that’s your choice. Same thing goes with acquaintances – if you can’t be friends or socialize with me because of my sexual orientation, that is your loss.”
Drew’s response was:
“Because I don’t have children of my own, genealogy has represented to me a way that I can give back to my family. One of the things that I like best about being involved with the genealogical community is that it is an interest that I can share with my husband, George G. Morgan, who is a passionate genealogist. We enjoy researching, writing, presenting, and volunteering with genealogical societies together. I think the listeners to our Genealogy Guys Podcast can tell that we have a lot of fun doing it together.”
Nick replied that “I don’t believe being gay has had any effect on my interest in genealogy. However, since beginning researching my family tree, I have developed a strong circle of fellow gay Hungarian genealogist friends with whom I am extremely close to. It’s through them that I’ve not only been able to talk about our mutual interest in Hungarian genealogy, but we’ve also been able to be a support system for one another.”
For myself, I think that being gay has impacted my genealogy. For one thing, I went into research knowing that one should never assume anything. You never know that secrets may be hiding, in the closet or elsewhere.
When I first got the idea for this piece, I thought I would talk to both men and women. But as I moved forward, I realized that I couldn’t think of any openly lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered women who are professional genealogists. I turned to several of my friends and colleagues, and none of them had heard of any either. In a field that is dominated by women participants, I find it very telling.
When I think about the contributions to genealogy made just by this small group of four men, it makes me proud. Proud that we have made, and continue to make a difference. By writing, by teaching, by giving advice, by researching, by providing access to materials. By moving us all forward. And there are many more of us out there. I am extremely proud to be a member of this group, and extremely grateful to be able to call each of them not only a colleague, but a friend.