An Evening honoring Allan Bérubé

The Skylight Room
was standing
room only for a
panel discussion to remember
and celebrate the life
and work of groundbreaking
gay historian Allan
Bérubé.

Allan’s death in December of last year
was a great shock to his many admirers,
both inside and outside academia. His
commitment to telling the stories of people
whose lives were too often ignored by conventional
historians was borne out in both
his early projects on cross-dressing women
and his later work on lesbians and gay men
who served in WWII.
The panel of distinguished scholars
spoke to the variety of Allan’s work. Aaron
Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a
research institute that focuses on the effects
of the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
policy, spoke about the ways in which the
Center’s work is both indebted to Allan’s
research on LGBT people in the military
even as it can support the kind of militarism
that Allan himself strenuously resisted.
Thought-provoking and moving, Belkin’s
talk reminded the audience of the differences
between acceptance and liberation, a
distinction of which Allan was profoundly
aware.
Jonathan Ned Katz, like Allan an
independent scholar, shared his analysis
of the importance of Allan’s work to gay
historians. Most exciting (and moving)
were the excerpts he read not just from Allan’s
published essays but also from letters
he received from Allan. Katz reminded us
that Allan was interested not only in the
ways that queer people had been persecuted
and had nonetheless flourished. Rather, he
interrogated the role of class and race in gay
politics and on the larger American scene.
Sharply aware of his own complex position
– a white gay man, Catholic, working-class,
French-Canadian – Allan was remarkable in
his ability to negotiate the intersections of
oppression and privilege that informed his
life.
These intersections and contradictions
were the topic of Thomas Glave’s talk. In a
combination of memoir, commemoration,
and analysis, Glave discussed Allan’s committed
engagement with questions of identity
and power. This commitment allowed
Allan to cross boundaries of race, class, age,
gender, to name just a few. Drawing on his
own experiences as a Caribbean gay man,
Glave summoned Allan’s spirit for everyone
in the audience by celebrating his generosity
of intellect and of heart.
After the formal presentations of the
evening, discussion ranged widely. In a series
of exchanges Allan certainly would have
enjoyed, audience members debated the role
of LGBT politics in the Iraq War, and where
queer organizations should stand on issues
of militarism, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the
movement for peace. Discussants pointed to
Allan’s own history as a conscientious objector
while also challenging LGBT organizations
to support queer veterans of Iraq and
other wars.
Perhaps the most telling tribute to Allan
Bérubé was that at the end of the evening,
no one wanted to leave. Audience members
lingered over wine and cheese, talking about
Allan, about politics, about wars past and
present, and about the ways in which queer
life has changed and still stayed the same.
The only element missing was Allan Bérubé
himself.