UNC-Charlotte alumnus Dr. La Shonda Mims has spent her adult life researching and educating about the history of LGBTQ+ identifying women in the South, a topic she has a personal connection to. 

“While I was at UNC-Charlotte doing my master’s degree, I fully came out to myself,” Mims explains. “When I found out … I can study queer people historically, I was hooked.”

Mims’s research and hard work cultivated in the form of her new book, Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists, and she will be giving a talk from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City in partnership with J. Murrey Atkins Library, the UNC-Charlotte Department of History and Graduate History Association and Charlotte Pride.

“We just wanted to share [this] with the local community,” Community Engagement Archivist Adreonna Bennett says. “Charlotte is always changing  — people are coming and going, and a lot of times people move here and don’t necessarily understand the history, or just even the physical space around them.

“We also wanted to have this event around the time of [Charlotte] Pride, so when people are coming into town, they can come to the event.”

Mims — an associate professor at Middle Tennessee State University and future professor at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom — authored a book examining the history of the queer communities of Charlotte and Atlanta, two of the urban centers of the South. Her research specifically focuses on the perspectives of lesbian and queer women, a side of the narrative she believes hasn’t been fully addressed. 

“There’s a pretty strong lack of understanding about how important [the word] “dyke” was to feminists and queer women in the 1970s,” Mims says. “Drastic Dykes were an actual group of lesbian, feminists in Charlotte … I used a name that women themselves claimed in Charlotte, So by naming the book that, I was really trying to honor their legacy.”

Mims said she picked both Charlotte and Atlanta for the focus of her book because she said during her time in Charlotte, there was an aspiration amongst community members to be “more like Atlanta.”

“What I really did not want to do was tell a story that was like, ‘Atlanta is great and Charlotte sucks,’ because that wasn’t my experience,” Mims offers. “My experience was there were a lot of super queer, super fun, you know, women and queer people in Charlotte, but there were things historically going on in both cities that changed life for women in both cities.”

Some of the queer history in Charlotte is documented in the  King-Henry-Brockington Archive at the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNCC. The archive is made of over 200 feet of shelves, stocked with first-hand accounts of the activism and demonstrations taking place in Charlotte in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.

Bennett said as a part of highlighting what’s in the special collection, the library wanted to invite Mims to talk about the research she’s conducted, as well as discuss what resources she used from the King-Henry-Brockington Archive to complete her book. 

“Hearing those stories about everything that people were facing and still showing up every day putting their best put forward to that change, I think all of that is really inspiring, and I think people can learn a lot from that,” Bennett offers. “Being able to see someone who is like you … and seeing that they were able to overcome adversity and find community and be themselves is important for everyone.”

Mims said her work has become more and more important to her over the years, especially in light of recent attempts by legislators to pass policies targeting LGBTQ+ youth and adults. In her own college town, Mims said her students are having to fight for the right to celebrate Pride, something she remembers from her time in Charlotte in the early 2000s. 

“What I also wasn’t prepared for was that this book would come out, and I would be living in one of the most hated states right now for queer people and one of the places where the most hateful legislation against queer people is happening,” she explains. “My students in Murfreesboro lost their battle to have community pride last year … I just wasn’t prepared that I would be seeing a lot of what I’ve written about reigniting in really painful ways.”

Coming back to her alma mater to talk about queer women’s role in the LGBTQ+ movement in the South is a full circle moment for Mims. She wants event attendees to walk away from the event, not just learning something new, but also experience enough inspiration to continue to document those first-hand accounts of fighting for equality. 

“I’d love for people to be inspired to do some oral histories, record some interviews with people in their community, especially people who are diverse, nonwhite people, nonbinary people, and people from different spaces that maybe are from Charlotte to talk about their own histories and people in their communities that inspire them,” Mims offers. “If I didn’t have those collections at the library at UNC-Charlotte and other libraries, I couldn’t have written this book.

“I hope that they take this knowledge back to their day-to-day lives and think about the ways in which they can contribute and grow queer history in their own communities.”

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