August 12, 2015

By Office of Communications Intern Nate Gordon

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A screenshot of the LGBT rights in the Americas timeline prototype

In 2010, Javier Corrales co-edited The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America. Since then, LGBT rights have become a focus for Amherst’s Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science. Soon after he released the book, while talking to colleagues and others around campus about his studies, Corrales realized he was missing a resource: a comprehensive chronological record of the events that have influenced LGBT rights in the Americas.

This summer, after about two years of planning and collaboration with student researchers, Corrales has made a prototype of the timeline available, along with an informative website about the project. To do so, Corrales enlisted the help of Frost Library’s Kelcy Shepherd, head of digital programs, and Gretchen Gano, former social sciences librarian, as well as Aaron Coburn, systems administrator and programmer for Academic and Technology Services. He also recruited a number of students, including Bob Neel ’16, who has made the timeline the focus of his summer and described it as his “small child.”

Corrales and Neel hope that the timeline will serve as, among other things, a research tool for both students and teachers, and a way to engage people in LGBT issues.

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Javier Corrales, Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science

Neel says, “We want to cater to activism. If you are an activist in a certain area, and you’re trying to create a culture of activism, you can identify certain things [on the timeline] to build a community around the history of LGBT rights in your specific area.”

“I can go in with almost no knowledge of this area in Latin America or the Caribbean and start to identify trends and use the tools that we have associated with the Web base to build a project,” adds Neel, who will be writing his senior thesis on LGBT rights in the Americas.

In July 2015, Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, told Corrales via Twitter that the State Department had been using his report on “LGBT Rights and Representation in Latin America and the Caribbean,” a project that has accompanied Corrales’s work on the timeline.

Corrales and Neel envision the timeline to be an open-source tool, much like Wikipedia, onto which anyone around the globe will be able to post the latest events.

The biggest test facing the timeline, Neel believes, is its sustainability. “How can we sustain it and make it something that’s usable for the future?” he wonders. “A lot of that has to do with coming up with funding resources. Hopefully, as people start using it, and we unveil it, it will garner its own support.”

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Bob Neel ’16 presents the project

In early April, Amherst hosted a conference named “LGBT Rights in Latin America and Beyond,” organized by Corrales and his students. Corrales says, “I thought it was a fantastic event. We were able to bring to campus some of the brightest scholars currently working on this topic. It’s a brand new field of inquiry for political scientists. The level of enthusiasm was huge.”

As part of the conference, Neel and his fellow students presented the prototype of the timeline and received feedback.

Neither Corrales nor Neel want to speculate on when a final version of the timeline will be available. The current prototype includes most of the factual information for the final version, but Neel says there is still work to be done before moving the timeline to a new platform. “We have to figure out what will be the most effective way to present this data,” he says. “We need to make sure that it is something that will be usable and will be eye-catching.”

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