Joan Nestle Prize

Joan Nestle

Joan Nestle

Joan Nestle Prize

The Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History (CLGBTH) will award the Joan Nestle Prize for an outstanding paper on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer history completed in English by an undergraduate student in 2021 or 2022. The prize is funded through a special fund established by CLGBTH’s lifetime members.

Submissions should be sent as one PDF file via email by 11:59pm (Pacific time), 15 October 2022 to all members of the prize committee.

Prize Committee:

  • Natalie Shibley, University of Pennsylvania,
  • Quinn Anex-Ries, University of Southern California,
  • Jerry (Jay) Watkins, William & Mary,

The Joan Nestle Prize recognizes an outstanding paper on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and/or queer history completed in English by an undergraduate student. It is awarded in odd-numbered years, for work completed during the two years.

The prize is funded through a special fund established by CLGBTH’s lifetime members.

To learn more about Joan Nestle, visit her website.

Winner: Rebecca Chung (Claremont McKenna), “Creating “A Beautiful Place to Die”: The History of Lesbian Clergy During the AIDS Epidemic.”

This senior thesis examines the long-overlooked role of lesbian clergy during the AIDS epidemic. Chung argues that lesbian rabbis and pastors provided a critical religious and political voice for the gay and lesbian community, not only providing essential pastoral care for gay men with AIDS but also transforming religious institutions in the United States in the process. Chung conducted oral histories with fourteen key lesbian rabbis, pastors, and activists, creating an important new archive in the process of telling this important and transformative story.

Winner: Alexis Hansen (Grand Valley State University) “Developing a Transcartohistoriography.”

In “Developing a Transcartohistoriography,” Alexis Hansen investigates the dissemination of knowledge pertaining to transgender studies within various fields of inquiry from 1940-2018. Using graphical software that traces thousands of documents, she maps the use of terminology through decades, analyzing how mainstream dialogs and academic scholarship in both the humanities and biological sciences produced knowledge surrounding transgender identities. Just as her own work bridges the social sciences and humanities, Hansen concludes by asking whether disciplinary divisions are useful or hinder new modes of knowledge production. “Developing a Transcartohistoriography” maps discourse in innovative ways, offering a fresh understanding of the ways in which knowledge on transgender subjectivities was deployed and circulated. Hansen wrote this essay under the direction of Professor Lawrence Burns at Grand Valley State University.

Winner: Ben Eshelman, “Trans Rochester Speaks”:

Conducted under the guidance of Professor Tamar Carroll, Eshelman’s website boasts an engaging and insightful collection of oral histories with members of Rochester’s trans community. Eshelman has divided his project to cover various facets of trans life–activism, work, parenting, healthcare, community, and visibility–allowing a rich coverage of how trans identity shapes one’s relationship with the world. The committee is deeply impressed with Eshelman’s exemplary engagement with primary sources (especially oral histories) and his impressive synthesis of these narratives into a cogent and highly accessible rendering of trans life in his community.


Winner: Shay Gonzales,“Culture War in the ‘hate state’: ACT UP/Denver before and after Amendment 2.” (University of Colorado, Denver)

The Committee was impressed by the originality of the topic and of the analysis, which is based on careful use of newspaper and archival sources to understand shifting gay political strategies in Colorado in the 1990s.


Winner: Mark Mulligan,“Female Warriors and Victims of Circumstance: Male Impersonators in Early American Print Culture,” (Assumption College).

Mark Mulligan’s carefully crafted essay explores the evolution of narratives about male impersonators from the Revolution to the end of the Civil War. Based on a close reading of print sources from the American Antiquarian Society, Mulligan demonstrates that the Revolutionary-era discourse of the “female warrior” had origins in older European traditions. The discourse morphed during the years of the Early Republic to emphasize the male impersonator as a victim of circumstance. Yet the trope of the female warrior re-emerged by the time of the Civil War—“both a familiar and recognizable character and also a character …constantly reinvented.” Mulligan is sophisticated in his use of historiography and attentive to the sorts of questions that the print sources he has unearthed can and cannot answer. His essay shifts focus from the impersonator as exceptional to the impersonator as representative; Mulligan is less interested in the individual experience of any given impersonator than in the male impersonator as a “persona in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century consciousness.”


Winner: Shelley Grosjean, “A ‘Womyn’s’ Work is Never Done: The Gendered Division of Labor on Lesbian Separatist Lands in Southern Oregon” (University of Oregon). Read online (PDF).1

Shelley Grosjean’s well-written and persuasive exploration of lesbian lands in Oregon makes imaginative use of a wealth of wonderful sources: images as well as texts. She locates these utopian experiments in the contexts of 1970s lesbian feminism and back-to-the-land movements, moving easily between the experiential details of daily life and labor and the larger political, economic, and social forces that gave them meaning. Her paper illuminates not only the visions of community that motivated so many women; it helps to explain why their practical efforts to realize those visions met so many obstacles. Grosjean is an undergraduate at the University of Oregon.

Honorable mention: Bradley Milam, “Gay West Virginia: Community Formation and the Forging of a Gay Appalachian Identity, 1963-1979” (Yale University). Read online (PDF).2

Bradley Milam tells a moving and emotionally rich story about Appalachia, a part of the United States that has, to date, been almost invisible in GLBT history. Relying on oral histories, Milam’s paper counters the urban bias of so many gay community studies. He suggests that the elements of gay life and consciousness in West Virginia emerged in a chronologically distinctive fashion that may be more typical of rural areas. Even more provocatively, he argues that many gays and lesbians in the state resolved their identities not by leaving home, but by doing exactly what they were raised to do: attend church, form families, and adhere to traditional American values. Milam is a 2010 graduate of Yale University.


Winner: Ryan Darrow, “’A Great Surge of Purpose’: Gay Persons with AIDS and Alternative Therapies” (Middle Tennessee State University, Professor Pippa Holloway). Read online (PDF).3

In “’A Great Surge of Purpose’: Gay Persons with AIDS and Alternative Therapies,” Ryan Darrow investigates the efforts of gay men in the 1980s to take control of their lives and their health. He explores a mostly forgotten, but at the time quite vital, aspect of the social history of the AIDS epidemic and the U.S. in the 1980s. This is a fine essay in the recent history of sexuality, medicine, and everyday life. A McNair Fellow, Darrow wrote this essay under the direction of Professor Pippa Holloway at Middle Tennessee State University.


No prize awarded.


No prize awarded.


Winner: Gabriel Rosenberg, “Of Battles and Wars: Bowers v. Hardwick, The Advocate, and the Struggle for Gay Rights” (Grinnell College, Professor Russell Osgood)

A model paper on a very timely topic, it was carefully researched, clearly written, and carried its argument through from start to finish. Rather than interpret the Hardwick case as a moment in constitutional history, Rosenberg used it as a window into the state of gay and lesbian politics. He makes a persuasive argument that the Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of sodomy statutes had a galvanizing effect on the gay and lesbian movement of the mid-1980s. It helped revitalize a politics that had grown stagnant in the preceding decade. With the fate of the new Lawrence case hovering over us, Rosenberg’s essay suggests the usefulness of historical study as a way of gauging the impact of current events.


Winner: Debra Michaud, “The Discursive Construction of the Lesbian Subject in Late Nineteenth-Century America: An Investigation into the Trials of Lillian Duer” (Hampshire College)

Honorable mention: Tim Retzloff, “‘Seer or Queer?’: Reflections of Race, Class, Sexuality, and Mass Media in the 1956 Arrest of Detroit’s Prophet Jones” (University of Michigan)


Winner: Laura Ginsberg, “Sexual Identity and Democracy in Spain: Spain’s Gay Rights Movement and Poststructural Considerations for its Future” (Harvard University)


No prize awarded.


No prize awarded.

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  1. All essays are publicly archived here with the permission of their authors. Do not distribute, reproduce, or cite without appropriate attribution. []
  2. All essays are publicly archived here with the permission of their authors. Do not distribute, reproduce, or cite without appropriate attribution. []
  3. All essays are publicly archived here with the permission of their authors. Do not distribute, reproduce, or cite without appropriate attribution. []