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2012/07/23

Jack van der Wel, IHLIA, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: The New Homosaurus: Building a Global More Bisexual & Transgender Inclusive LGBT Thesaurus

"Existing classifications frequently don't fit in information of special concern to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. As a result, this information is lumped under 'homosexuality', ‘men’ or ‘women’, or is simply inaccessible."
Jack van der Wel is Head of the Collection and Information Services of IHLIA, the International Gay and Lesbian Information Centre and Archives in Amsterdam that is hosting the LGBTI ALMS 2012. In his paper, he reaches out to discuss the development of the new homosaurus, an improved version of the original bilingual legacy thesaurus that was created fifteen years ago. Since 2010 Jack van der Wel has worked together with Ellen Greenblatt from the University of Colorado to transform "the original Homosaurus into a ready-to-use resource for community-based archives, libraries, and documentation centers throughout the world." Particular emphasis is put on making it more bisexual and transgender inclusive.

What are your ideas about making the new homosaurus more up-to-date and inclusive? What do you, for instance, think about adding new headings like "bisexual information centres" or "transgender identity"? 

To read the full article, click on "read more". Enjoy, share, comment and discuss. 

The New Homosaurus: Building a Global More Bisexual & Transgender Inclusive LGBT Thesaurus

The Homosaurus is a bilingual (Dutch and English) legacy thesaurus created over fifteen years ago in the Netherlands for the collections of IHLIA, the International Gay and Lesbian Information Centre and Archives.

Since 2010 Jack van der Wel, Head, Collections and Information Services at IHLIA-Homodok, and Ellen Greenblatt, University of Colorado Denver, have worked together transforming the original Homosaurus into a ready-to-use resource for community-based archives, libraries, and documentation centers throughout the world. The goal is to provide an LGBT-focused tool to help colleagues enhance access to their collections.

The Homosaurus is a controlled vocabulary originally designed to index and search for information about lesbian & gay existence, and lesbian & gay studies. It was published in 1997 in Dutch and English.
Its major objective was to provide all lesbian & gay archives, libraries and documentation centres, as well as those persons or organizations wishing to set up a lesbian & gay archive, library or documentation centre, with a ready-to-use international thesaurus of lesbian & gay index terms. The absence of such an index was seen as the principal reason for the lack of indexing of gay and lesbian materials and information about lesbian & gay existence. Standard indexing and classification systems did and do not offer a vocabulary sufficiently detailed and up-to-date to retrieve the wealth of resources available. Existing classifications frequently don't fit in information of special concern to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. As a result, this information is lumped under 'homosexuality', ‘men’ or ‘women’, or is simply inaccessible. The Homosaurus was meant as a stimulus to the necessary work of storage and retrieval of information relevant to LGBT people.

The Homosaurus started out as a mainly gay and lesbian thesaurus.  Overtime more terms relating to bisexuality, trans*, and intersex concepts had been added – but not methodically. At the LGBT ALMS conference in New York City in 2008, I met Ellen and I asked her for help  in translating a newer version of the Homosaurus into English. I told her that she could make any comment and suggestion she wanted to make and that is exactly what she did. I received 183 pages with comments and suggestions. For example telecommunication and media were completely outdated and web 2.0 issues were completely missing. Conclusion: A major revision of the Homosaurus was necessary. The first results were presented at the 2011 LGBT ALMS Conference in Los Angeles.
All the comments and discussions leaded to the draft version of the Homosaurus that I want to discuss with you during this years' ALMS Conference, with a focus on building a more bisexual and transgender inclusive LGBT Thesaurus.

The combined descriptors gay and lesbian ... are removed (for example gay and lesbian libraries) because they are a vestige of how the community was seen prior to its expansion to the currently more inclusive LGBT or LGBTI. Only the separate descriptors – e.g., gay libraries and lesbian libraries – are used.
To be consistent and inclusive more headings are added for bisexuals and transgender people (for example bisexual information centres and transgender information centres ; bisexual couples and transgender couples ; bisexual identity and transgender identity ; bisexual parents and transgender parents). Even more headings for bisexuals and transgender people could be added (for example bisexual archives and transgender archives).

One of the discussions involved how to relate concepts regarding transgenderism and transsexuality.  Some folks would make transgender people the BT or Broader Term, subsuming the term transsexuals underneath it in the hierarchy. However, not all transsexuals feel that they are transgender, and in this case, the prior proposal would not reflect their reality. And if we go with the 2nd scenario, we need a larger, all-encompassing category – such as, gender-variant people, genderqueer people, or gender minorities -- the last of these being the one we chose as umbrella term for transgender people, transsexuals, and other gender variant people.
Another discussion is the term gender identity disorders (GID), former gender dysphoria, which is controversial in the upcoming DSM-V. To make this term less insulting, the original BT mental disorders is replaced with gender identity instead of linking them as RTs.
Also the term homosexuality is new in the Homosaurus. Is was excluded for the same reason that heterosexuality doesn't show up in mainstream resources. Homosexuality was the norm in the Homosaurus, so it didn't need a descriptor. When you want to include gender identity issues, you can't do that any longer.

Gender-neutral terms are used whenever possible – i.e., actors are used rather than both actors and actresses or business people rather than businessmen and businesswomen. However we couldn't find a solution for cowboys and cowgirls.

I hope all this makes the Homosaurus more up-to-date and more inclusive and want to discuss this with you at and after the ALMS conference in Amsterdam.

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