The CLAGS/IRN Global Sexualities Thesaurus

Anyone using search engines such as Google ™ to search the Internet
has had the experience of being inundated with results, many of
which are totally irrelevant to the subject at hand. Those searching for
information relating to LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,
Intersex, and Queer/Questioning) topics face additional frustrations in
retrieving comprehensive and accurate results. Free-text and keyword
searching return results relating only to the exact search string employed
by the searcher, often missing many relevant resources.
Thesauri make searching more effi cient and precise. A well-constructed
thesaurus brings together synonyms that keyword searching
would miss such as “lesbian,” “dyke,” and “gay woman.” It connects alternate
spellings, e.g., “women” vs. “womyn” vs. “wimmin.” It provides
linkages to historical usages – remember “lesbigay” and “lesbigaytr”? It
the clags/irn global sexualities thesaurus
Ellen Greenblatt
helps navigate the “alphabet soup” we use to refer
collectively to our communities. These abbreviations
can vary both in terms of inclusiveness and
the order in which the various groups are represented,
for example “GLBT” vs. “LGBT” vs. “LGBTIQ,”
etc. This situation can be especially exasperating
for researchers utilizing key word search
strategies since they must consider all the various
permutations to ensure complete results. Thesauri
also assist researchers in fi nding both technical and
popular information although the terminology is
vastly different. And while these types of problems
create substantial barriers to monolingual research,
the obstacles expand exponentially for those performing
multilingual research.
Enter the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies/
International Resource Network Global Sexualities
Thesaurus. Its main purpose is to provide
the structure for the International Resource Network
(IRN) currently under development and
set to launch later this year. Based at the Center
for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the City
University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center,
the IRN is supported by a grant from the Ford
Foundation. An international advisory board of
renowned scholars and activists is instrumental in
cultivating the content of this digital library which
strives to increase global access to scholarly resources
in the areas of sexuality and gender, provide
opportunities for networking and collaboration, aid
in curriculum development, and link activism and scholarly research. More information about the IRN can be found at its place-holding web page at
Realizing the important role thesauri play in information retrieval, an additional library advisory board was gathered together to work with the IRN developers in compiling such a tool. Members of the library advisory board include: Polly Thistlethwaite and Michael Handis, The Graduate Center, CUNY; Yolanda Vargas Retter, University of California, Los Angeles; Daniel Tsang, University of California, Irvine; and Ellen Greenblatt, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center; and the development team includes Tara Montgomery and Matthew Johnson. This thesaurus, dubbed the CLAGS/IRN Global Sexualities Thesaurus, is being developed as a single, multilingual thesaurus in Spanish, French, (simplified) Chinese, and English. It will also incorporate terms in other languages that have no exact equivalents in any of these four languages. Building upon the rich legacy of LGBTIQ thesauri developed over the past several decades, this particular thesaurus is noteworthy in that it will be an organic, multilingual resource.
End users will use the thesaurus in two ways – when uploading content to the IRN and when searching for IRN content. A robust web-interface will insure that content contributors will be able to consult the thesaurus and apply appropriate descriptors to their documents and will also enable searchers to benefit from the linkages provided by the thesaurus to maximize the comprehensiveness and precision of their search results.
While the Global Sexualities Thesaurus is being developed to support the IRN, the IRN team visualizes the web-based thesaurus as a collaborative community project and encourages contributions. For more information, or to learn how you can get involved, send an email message to the IRN Project Coordinator, Chun-Ping Yen at, or call 212-817-1955.

Ellen Greenblatt is the project leader of the CLAGS Global Sexualities Thesaurus and the Associate Dean for Access, Collections, and Technical Services at the Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center.