Part VII: Research

Chapter 12: A Practical Guide for LGBTQ+ Studies

Rachel Wexelbaum and Gesina A. Phillips


With a simple search, people can now access a wealth of online information about LGBTQ+ topics, especially if they are English speakers. And yet searching for information online, figuring out what to ask, and choosing how to word questions can still be frustrating. When conducting research on an LGBTQ+ topic, people will have to use different search strategies and critical thinking skills to locate resources appropriate for academic purposes. We wrote this chapter to help people search for LGBTQ+ information and resources in an effective, mindful manner.

Ethical Considerations for LGBTQ+ Research

When preparing to do research, it is important to learn about the community (or communities) that you have chosen to study. Awareness of LGBTQ+ terminology, identity development, and the living conditions of LGBTQ+ people will provide necessary context. Before you locate and evaluate LGBTQ+ information sources, consider the following points:

  • Many communities, one initialism: Remember that the LGBTQ+ initialism encompasses many diverse individuals and experiences. In fact, there are multiple formulations of it (e.g., LGBTQIA, QUILTBAG), and letters sometimes serve more than one function (e.g., “Q” for queer or questioning). In this chapter, we use “LGBTQ+” to refer to a large spectrum of identities. When speaking about a particular population, however, more specific terms (e.g., gay, lesbian) may be more appropriate to use than an inclusive initialism because of the differences in experience among groups. Remember also that an individual might identify in multiple ways (e.g., a bisexual transgender person).
  • Intersectional identities: The concept of intersectionality (a theory of Kimberlé Crenshaw) focuses on how interlocking systems of oppression affect marginalized individuals.[1] Remember to consider how other aspects of an individual’s identity (race, ethnicity, class, country of origin, religion, disability status, etc.) interact with their LGBTQ+ identity. Avoid treating the different aspects of a person’s identity separately, and instead engage in a holistic examination of the systems of privilege and marginalization that act on them.
  • Pronouns and binaries: Be careful not to make assumptions about the individuals that you study. Use caution when applying modern labels to a historical subject. If an individual refers to themselves using particular pronouns, use those pronounsif they use zir, do not substitute their, for example. Be wary of binaries. Do not erase bisexuality or pansexuality by insisting on a gay-straight binary. Do not erase intersex or nonbinary individuals by insisting on a male-female binary. Be mindful of emergent terminology, the explicit identification of LGBTQ+ individuals, and the various experiences within the LGBTQ+ community.

Careful consideration of these topics will help you in later stages of your research as you begin to develop your question, form a search strategy, and synthesize the information that you find into a paper, presentation, or other form of scholarship.

Getting Ready for Research

Constructing Research Questions and Generating Keywords

To begin, write down the research questions that you have about your topic. Writing research questions also helps you generate keywords for searching. When constructing research questions, pay attention to the following:

Photograph of a lit-up question mark.
Figure 12.1. Start your research with a well-formed research question. (Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash.)

Yes or No Questions

Often, the first attempt to write down a research question results in a yes or no question, like this:

Can lesbians become parents?

The keywords in this question are “lesbians” and “parents,” which could potentially retrieve a broad range of information resources about lesbian parents, or lesbians and how they raise children, or parents of lesbian children. The fact that resources existing about lesbian parents implies a positive response to this question, so the question answers itself. Here are some questions that you would need to answer with evidence from research, however:

How do lesbians become parents?

How do lesbians parent their children?

What laws affect the ability of lesbians to have children or become parents?

Appropriate Use of LGBTQ+ Terminology

In LGBTQ+ research, language is everything. Whether searching for information about a historical or current topic, familiarize yourself with the terminology used for (or by) LGBTQ+ people in that time, culture, and place, in addition to current LGBTQ+ terminology. This will help you locate resources and artifacts from that time period, perhaps produced by that culture, as well as resources written by modern researchers. There is also LGBTQ+ terminology that is out of date or that is now considered clinical language used by medical researchers or biologists to describe nonhuman animals and their behavior. Review the chapters and their “Research Resources” sections in this book for the most up-to-date LGBTQ+ terminology used in different disciplines.

Value-Laden or Comparative Language

It may seem intuitive to include terms like good, bad, positive, negative, problem, challenge, and so on in research questions. Here is an example:

Are there negative impacts of lesbian parenting on children?

Including “negative” in our keyword search will lead to biased results that keep us from retrieving information that will allow us to interpret the range of complexities on a topic for ourselves. To remove this bias, you can revise the question to read more neutrally:

What is the impact of lesbian parenting on children?

Questions That Are Too Specific or Too Broad

Scale your topic to the size of the project that you are undertaking. A research paper of ten pages or fewer, for example, should cover a narrow, focused topic. It sounds tricky to scope your question so that it’s broad enough to be included in multiple resources but narrow enough not to be overwhelming, but you will be able to do it with some planning and initial research.

Let’s start with a broad topic and try to narrow it appropriately:

What support systems exist for LGBT* people?

“LGBT*” (the asterisk is used for truncation searches[2]) is an abbreviation applying to many diverse individuals, each with their own experience. The phrase “support systems” is also vague. It might refer to personal support systems, governmental programs, nonprofit or community organizations, or online resources and communities. Entire handbooks and encyclopedias are needed to answer such a broad question. For a smaller project, narrow the question to focus on a particular population, location, or type of service.

It is also possible to narrow down the topic too much:

What community organizations exist to support lesbian Somali refugee youth in Minnesota?

Although this is an excellent question, there may not be enough information about this specific population in this specific location. It is worth a try, but may retrieve too few search results (or none at all). You might have to broaden the search terms to retrieve results that may answer the question or remove some search terms, like so:

What organizations exist to support lesbian Somali refugee youth?

Removing the location-specific aspect may help the researcher locate more general information that would still apply to the population of interest in Minnesota. Removing “community” but including “organizations” might also generalize your search and reduce the number of results about specific community organizations outside your area of interest. If this search still retrieved too few results, you might alter it to be slightly broader:

What organizations exist to support lesbian Somali youth?

Removing “refugee” as a keyword in this search increases the possibility of locating information about Somali youth and their coming out process in general, which has the potential to include the coming out process for Somali refugee youth, immigrant youth, or Somali youth who were born in the country where they currently reside.

After doing some research, you may need to revisit the scope of your topic because it is still too broad or too narrow. Don’t be discouraged—this is part of the research process!

Information Availability

When you have your keywords test them out by deciding where you want to search. Researching a historical event will likely involve sources such as books, journal articles, or primary sources from online or physical archives. Writing about a current event, however, may require locating recent developments in the news or social media in addition to materials that inform the historical context. Thinking about the types of sources that you expect to find and consult will help you decide whether you need to search in a database, a library catalog, a search engine, or all these sources.

It is also important to consider what sources might not be available. You might not be able to find explicitly LGBTQ+ sources created in a repressive context. LGBTQ+ people in seventeenth-century English colonies with strict sodomy law enforcement and witch trials probably did not write openly about themselves, if they could write at all. People would not have used the terminology that we might use today to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity. Secondary sources such as books and articles present information about the lives of LGBTQ+ people in such contexts based on the authors’ research using primary documents. Sometimes these sources can guide you to the primary documents, which you might be able to consult for yourself. See the later section “From the Archives: Historical LGBTQ+ Primary Source Material” for more information about archival sources.

Once you’ve thought about what kind of information you expect to find, start using the keywords that you generated when creating your research question. For tips on translating research questions into language that databases can understand, consult Walden University Library’s guide on keyword searching and connecting keywords.[3]


Safety First: Online Privacy

Not all people enjoy the same level of freedom or privacy in online searching. Public computer terminals may have internet filters on them to prevent people from searching for LGBTQ+ content. Corporations may collect personal data from researchers in the attempt to sell products or promote content. If someone lives in a country where LGBTQ+ identities are criminalized, online research on LGBTQ+ topics may put them at risk, even if they use their own mobile device. Active U.S. military may also have their online activities monitored. In cases such as these, where concerns about surveillance and privacy exist, it is important to take precautions before searching for LGBTQ+ information or connecting with LGBTQ+ communities online. Review “Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely,” a guide from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, before doing online research to preserve your privacy and security (

Searching for LGBTQ+ Information

Library Resources

Colleges and universities offer a wealth of information through their print book collections, databases, and other research materials. Your public library may have access to some databases and research materials as well.

In the United States, libraries have pledged to uphold the secrecy of patron borrowing records. The American Library Association has a “Library Bill of Rights” and associated interpretation.[4] If you are interested in a history of LGBTQ+ information in libraries, the Wikipedia page “Libraries and the LGBTQ Community” has more information.[5]

LGBTQ+ studies is highly interdisciplinary. This means that you may find relevant resources from several academic disciplines that adopt LGBTQ+ theories and research methods or that study LGBTQ+ populations, cultures, histories, and issues. Your library catalog is a good place to search for a wide range of information sources in various disciplines. The online library catalog allows people to look for books, e-books, media, online resources, and other content that the library owns or to which it has access. Visit your library website or consult with your librarian to learn about your particular library catalog’s features and interface.

Physical items are organized by call number. LGBTQ+ specific call numbers exist in the two major systems. Kristine Nowak and Amy Jo Mitchell identify and challenge the Library of Congress’s LGBTQ+ call numbers, and Doreen Sullivan identifies and problematizes the Dewey decimal classification’s LGBTQ+ call numbers.[6] Because LGBTQ+ studies crosses disciplines, you will likely find books on your topic in different call number sections.

Libraries such as Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries often use Library of Congress subject headings to classify their materials. Searching simultaneously for LGBTQ+ materials in the library catalog according to the subject headings with keyword searching may retrieve more relevant results than keyword searching alone. The librarians at Indiana University Bloomington have generated a helpful list of the LGBTQ+ Library of Congress subject headings that currently exist; this list will continue to evolve over time (figure 12.2).[7]

List of subject headings, including "Leather bars, Leather contests," etc.
Figure 12.2. Some of Indiana University Bloomington’s LGBTQ Library of Congress subject headings.

Students and faculty at academic institutions have access to academic databases. Databases include e-book collections, journal articles or their abstracts, streaming media (videos or audio files), and data sets. These resources are curated, organized, and described so that they can be searched with precision. These databases are often not accessible to anyone without an official user ID and password issued by the academic institution. Public libraries may provide access to some databases, and some (but not all) academic institutions offer access to online resources for those who visit in person. Not all libraries have research databases exclusively on LGBTQ+ subjects, but almost all academic libraries have general databases that index materials that support LGBTQ+ studies. We recommend the databases available for LGBTQ+ studies research listed in table 12.1.

Table 12.1 Databases

General academic LGBTQ+ studies
Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) Archives of Sexuality and Gender
Alternative Press Archive LGBT Life Full Text (EBSCO)
Alternative Press Index LGBT Thought and Culture
SAGE Full Text
Sociological Abstracts
Social Sciences Full Text
Women’s Studies International

Like library catalogs, databases often also use subject headings. Some databases have their own preferred subject headings for LGBTQ+ topics, so it is best to use those preferred search terms and subject headings even if they may not be familiar or the most acceptable terminology. Some databases still prefer the search term and subject heading “homosexual” to “gay,” for example, so you will need to include those problematic terms when searching those databases. The Directory of Open Access Journals, which makes scholarly journal articles in multiple languages freely available, is particularly problematic in its indexing, because it has no subject headings or preferred keywords specific to LGBTQ+ topics.[8] Using this directory will involve multiple searches using different keywords. You can often find a link to the list of subject headings used by a particular database on the search page by looking for a “Thesaurus” link. A librarian can help you with this if you get stuck.

Most college and university libraries make available respected, peer-reviewed LGBTQ+ journals, although library access to these journals varies. Notable examples of journals appropriate for academic research include the Journal of Homosexuality, the Journal of LGBTQ Youth, and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.

The Journal of Homosexuality, established in 1976, features articles that explore gender and sexual identities and communities from a variety of disciplinary perspectives ( The Journal of LGBTQ Youth, established in 2008, is a forum for improving the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. It contains first-person narratives by young people, practitioner reports, and research-based scholarship ( GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, established in 1991, publishes interdisciplinary articles focused on sex and sexuality (

An article that begins with "Who can I turn to?"
Figure 12.3. An article from an issue of the academic journal Sexualities. (CC-BY Ralf Lottmann, Andrew King, Sexualities, Sage Journals.)

Databases usually provide an abstract, or summary, of an individual journal article, but not all provide the full text of the articles. Many libraries have systems that either link to the full text or direct you to request it through interlibrary loan, but every library does this a little bit differently. If you are having trouble accessing the full text of an article, contact your librarian for help.

Although the authors of books and journal articles analyze and write about the impact of laws, culture, religion, or other elements of civilization on LGBTQ+ peopleor how LGBTQ+ people themselves affect those thingsit is important to read and interpret those laws, policies, and original documents yourself. For this reason, let’s move ahead to talk about government documents and primary sources.

Laws, Reports, and Government-Provided Health Information

Governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations (UN), and advocacy groups all publish information related to LGBTQ+ populations. This information includes laws from different countries; NGO, UN, and advocacy-group reports about conditions for LGBTQ+ people or how particular laws affect these populations; and information related to LGBTQ+ health issues, including HIV/AIDS, women’s health issues, and transgender health issues.

We often learn about laws or policies that affect LGBTQ+ populations through popular media. Journalists and bloggers often give a law or policy a short, catchy name, but the actual name of the law may be much longer. For example, the Russian “gay propaganda law” that people refer to in the media is actually a section of Russian Federation Federal Law no. 436-FZ of 2010-12-23, on Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development, titled “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values.” You can find this out by conducting a search in Google or other search engines, asking, “What is the real name of the gay propaganda law?” If you use the official name of the law in your search, the results will be more likely to come from official government or NGO reports.

Because of unique methods of organizing information in governmental and legal fields, finding sources such as governmental publications, bills, or court cases may require the assistance of a librarian. For more information about different types of government documents, consult the “Government Publications” subject guide from St. Cloud State University developed by the research librarian Michael Gorman.[9] You might also see if your library has its own guide on this topic.

Governments often provide health information to the public, including health information for or about LGBTQ+ people. In the United States, the federal government is the country’s largest publisher. To search for congressional recordings, Supreme Court opinions, congressional bills, and other documents on how the federal government refers to LGBTQ+ populations and topics, visit To search across different government websites, go to The easiest way to locate laws and government information from other countries is to use a search engine. A Northwestern University government information librarian, Anne Zald, also created an excellent list of foreign government websites.[10] If you are interested in government health information for or about LGBTQ+ people in other countries, you can try adding the name of the country to the search string. If you are unable to locate anything that way, search within the government’s official website for more information.

The UN provides statistics and reports about LGBT demographics, health, laws, and human rights abuses. The search string “united nations LGBT*” retrieves information from the UN about resolutions and reports on LGBT issues worldwide. Other NGOs and advocacy groups may also provide similar reports.

Sometimes LGBTQ+ people seek out legal or medical advice for personal matters from library resources. Although the library can assist people in locating information on laws, policies, and health, only lawyers or doctors can provide counsel for legal or medical decisions. Consult with a lawyer, medical professional, NGO, or advocacy group friendly to LGBTQ+ people for help with personal legal or medical issues.

From the Archives: Historical LGBTQ+ Primary Source Material

Sometimes you need to find primary sources for your topic.[11] LGBTQ+ studies research depends on primary sources to see firsthand how LGBTQ+ people existed in the past and exist in the present. Primary sources can be in physical and digital formats. Archives are curated collections of primary sources that are preserved for their historic or cultural significance. Archives are organized, curated, and described by archivists and other archival workers.


One of the oldest archives of LGBTQ+ material in the United States is held in Los Angeles. Watch this video about the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives to get an idea of what LGBTQ+ archives do and what they collect: (

  • Do you think it is important to collect and curate historical artifacts? Explain.
  • What is the most interesting thing you learned about LGBTQ+ history from watching this video?
  • If you had unlimited time and resources, what LGBTQ+ archive would you work to create? Why?

Archival LGBTQ+ content is important for several reasons: It often provides historical perspective on the topic you are studying and informs your research to prevent ahistorical claims from sneaking into your argument. Archival material provides firsthand accounts, photographs, audiovisual material, contemporary reactions to people and ideas, and ephemera (e.g., buttons, flyers, posters, and other objects). Archives are important for research also because they collect materials that are based on some shared characteristic (e.g., they all belonged to one person, or they document a particular event, time period, movement, or organization). This allows the researcher to encounter multiple archival objects alongside related objects and thereby gain some historical or thematic perspective. Objects from archives specific to LGBTQ+ issues may also expose you to content in individuals’ own voices, which can add another dimension to your knowledge about a topic.

Archives dedicated to LGBTQ+ material exist around the world. To find such archives, IHLIA LGBT Heritage of Amsterdam maintains an extensive list of links to worldwide LGBTQ+ archives.[12] Sometimes archives without an LGBTQ+ focus will create special exhibits related to LGBTQ+ individuals and content in their collections as well.

Archives are often collections of physical materials, digital content, or both. Often, a researcher will visit a physical archive in person to review materials. Many archives make information about their materials available online so that you can decide whether the content is likely to be relevant to your project. If you are a student at a college or university, check with your library; your institution may have archival collections of its own. Digital archives offer more access, but keep in mind that the digital collection might not include everything from the physical collection.

The following resources are good places to begin searching for digital primary source materials:

  • Library of Congress Digital Collections. “LGBTQ+ Studies: A Resource Guide.”[13]
  • IHLIA LGBT Heritage. The primary source materials from European LGBTQ+ organizations on this website have a focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.[14]
  • Created by pioneering LGBTQ+ historian Jonathan Ned Katz, this website is an online digital archive of primary source LGBTQ+ materials.[15]

A Note on Search Engines

Databases and library catalogs collect and organize a specific set of resources for research purposes that can be accessed through browsing or searching. Search engines do not curate or organize information at all. Instead, a search engine such as Google uses the keywords that you enter to search publicly accessible internet content. This is why a search in Google will result in hundreds of thousands of results on a topic, including shopping sites, blogs, and news sites, of inconsistent quality, whereas your database search will generally return a smaller set of more specific results.

When discussing search, it is impossible to ignore the role of Google and Google Scholar. See the later section “Biases and LGBTQ+ Information Availability” for more information about algorithmic bias at work when you search for information. Remember also that data is collected about you when you interact with most online platforms and that your data is valuable; Google isn’t the only offender, but as a company it has an enormous reach. You have a choice of search engines, and some have better privacy practices and take user privacy and safety into account.[16]

With those caveats in mind, know that Google remains the most frequently used search engine in the world. To keep up to date on Google search strategies, tools, and features, refer to the Google Support Center, as well as the Google Advanced Search page. Helpful articles from online magazines LifeHack and PC Mag also provide great Google tricks.[17] Google Scholar is a popular and accessible search engine for retrieving abstracts, full-text scholarly journal articles, e-books, and government and NGO reports. For a complete rundown on Google Scholar features and how to use the tool, visit the Google Scholar Search Tips page.[18]

Social Media for LGBTQ+ Studies Research

For LGBTQ+ topics, social media may be a good source of information. You might be surprised to learn that researchers, scholars, activists, and others that you might encounter during your research may also be active on social media. Blogs, Twitter, or YouTube can help you find emerging research in the field. Researchers and scholars may post presentation materials from academic conferences, scholarly journal articles, book recommendations, or critiques of other people’s research. Social media can help students and people new to an academic or professional field get to know other researchers and relevant organizations in their field. These researcher and organization accounts might also point you toward job postings, graduate programs, or conferences. Social media can also have its dark side; harassment and algorithmic bias are problems that you should be aware of if you decide to work with social media for research purposes.[19]

Researchers can conduct basic keyword searches or tag and hashtag searches on most social media platforms. Twitter in particular has sophisticated advanced search features.[20] Because of the many LGBTQ+ terms and abbreviations that are used, it may be necessary to repeat the hashtag search for the most comprehensive results.

Conducting academic research using social media brings a unique set of challenges. Although these conversations are happening in public, they are not necessarily public statements. Think about any random conversation you have had that occurred in a public place. Would you want a researcher to quote you without your knowledge? Consider the following when using social media for research.

  • What is the source of the content? The researcher should be mindful of whether they’re quoting an individual, a nonprofit organization, a for-profit organization, a news agency, a government source, or some other source. As with any source, the researcher must evaluate the source in terms of its authority on the issue at hand, potential bias, and other questions such as those found in the later “Evaluating Information Sources” section and associated resources (such as the guide from Pennsylvania State University[21]).
  • How can I use this content? Researchers should remember that not all social media networks are public. A post that appears in one researcher’s social media feeds may be viewable by only certain accounts. Even users with public social media presence may have some expectation that their posts will not be republished without their consent.[22] If your research project will be published in a public forum where others could see this content, it is good practice to contact the creator, inform them of your research project, and ask permission to use their content. User-created content may also be protected by copyright. The University of Michigan Library provides information on what types of videos are appropriate to use for openly published research projects, as well as where to find those videos.[23]

In addition to these more socially focused platforms, another platform with a highly social infrastructure is designed for information creation and research: Wikipedia.

Wikipedia for LGBTQ+ Studies Research

Wikipedia can serve as a starting point for research on LGBTQ+ topics. It is also a major source of information for many people, including researchers who do not have access to databases or research libraries. Let’s examine how to use Wikipedia to research LGBTQ+ topics.

An efficient way to search for LGBTQ+ content on Wikipedia is to visit the LGBT Portal. The portal compiles news related to LGBTQ+ issues and has a section for daily featured LGBTQ+ content (figure 12.4).[24]

A screen capture of the LGBT Portal on Wikipedia.
Figure 12.4. The LGBT Portal on Wikipedia at (CC-BY-SA

To evaluate the content of a Wikipedia article, you must first understand how knowledge production works on Wikipedia. Wikipedia does not publish original content. Instead, creators summarize and synthesize content already published in another venue. Wikipedia editors strive to meet certain expectations for an article.[25] Reviewers identify articles that need editing or that they believe should be deleted, and creators can then defend the article or help improve it so that it can remain in Wikipedia. This process has its shortcomings, however. For example, articles about important yet underdocumented individuals or topics (including articles about LGBTQ+ people of color and LGBTQ+ people from non-English speaking countries) may be marked for deletion because of the lack of published information about them, despite their importance to the LGBTQ+ community or the world. For more on bias in Wikipedia (and the world), see Wikipedia’s page on systemic bias.[26]

When a relevant article exists and is identified, you must review several parts of the article to determine whether the content is appropriate for academic research. One of us, Rachel Wexelbaum, developed a subject guide on how to evaluate Wikipedia articles for research.[27]

When you find instances of bias or underrepresentation on Wikipedia, remember that you can participate in the process! Wikipedia is a living resource that depends on global community participation and collaboration, and thus students and professors can put their LGBTQ+ studies research skills to good use by adding information to existing articles, creating articles, and improving articles that are partial starts, or stubs.

Evaluating Information Sources

Carefully consider each source that you find while researching to determine whether it adds useful, accurate information to your research. See the Penn State University Libraries guide on evaluating information and the associated rubric for more good questions to ask to determine the quality of a source.[28]

Some specific questions may shape your evaluation of sources focused on LGBTQ+ topics:

  • Is the source authoritative? Authority can derive from the author having studied the topic, but it can also come from having experience with the topic. Academic authors, even those who identify as LGBTQ+, may offer insights that are different from LGBTQ+ individuals writing in other venues. A consideration of authority will also help weed out bad-faith actors and insufficiently informed perspectives.
  • Is the source biased? Although all authors are influenced by their perspectives, sometimes the strength of that viewpoint can lead to an incomplete, misleading, or untrue presentation of information. For example, information presented by the anti-LGBTQ+ group Focus on the Family or the pro-LGBTQ+ group the Human Rights Campaign may have a political agenda. When evaluating information related to LGBTQ+ issues, be sure to pay extra attention to questions related to point of view or bias.[29]
  • Is the LGBTQ+ terminology used in the source appropriate for your research? Sometimes a source will use terminology and information that is not current. Consider the scope of your topic. If you are conducting historical research, different terminology may have been in use. There is also a history of reclamation of derogatory terms by marginalized communities. Then consider whether the source was one that was likely to have been written in good faith. Is it by members of the LGBTQ+ community writing about themselves or by well-informed LGBTQ+ allies? Or is it by a group or individual that is hostile toward LGBTQ+ individuals? Historical sources require an evaluation process similar to more current sources, but you may need to conduct a little research about the particular time period before you are able to fully evaluate a historical or archival source.

All these questions will give you some idea of the relative trustworthiness of a source, although further scrutiny may of course be necessary. You may also need to go back and reevaluate your determination of accuracy as you learn more about your topic.

Biases and LGBTQ+ Information Availability

Depending on your research topic, you may retrieve multiple results that seem good enough. At the same time, you may not be able to construct a complete picture from your findings because of the overrepresentation of certain types of information and the underrepresentation of others. This will affect the LGBTQ+ information available to you, and it may result in rendering particular people, histories, cultures, or events invisible.

A wealth of LGBTQ+ studies scholarship is published in English-speaking countries, composed by people (predominantly white, cisgender, and able bodied) from those countries. These scholars have more often had the freedom, institutional support, and access to publishing platforms necessary to disseminate their research than have scholars in some other countries. Although LGBTQ+ studies is emerging as a discipline in other countries, research conducted in languages other than English often remains local. This means that the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in non-English-speaking countries often do not get heard, and information about non-English-speaking LGBTQ+ cultures may be more difficult to find. This bias is reflected in other places as well or perpetuated by Wikipedia’s practices.


Compiling and Organizing Content Retrieved from Library Catalogs and Databases

After locating helpful resources for your research, you need to store the content somewhere. You also need to organize the content so that you can transform it into a bibliography or works-cited page for your research assignment. Using a citation manager is the safest, most efficient way to save and manage research resources. Mel Johnson of the University of Maine Raymond H. Fogler Library has produced a clear subject guide on how to select and use a citation manager (

Search engines such as Google can be powerful tools in your search process, but the processes underlying searching online require some critique. How Google’s search algorithm works is a closely guarded secret, because Google is a company designed to create profit through services such as search. Remember that algorithms are created by people and cannot therefore be neutral; instead, they re-create human biases, which can creep into your information retrieval process. Because you do not know how the algorithm works, why an item appears higher on the results page than another is hidden from you. This is why simply looking at the first result returned by Google or by a database is not a reliable way of finding the most appropriate sources for your research. This chapter can’t fully delve into the politics of search; to learn more, read Farhad Manjoo’s article about bias in Google searches or consult Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression.[30]

To reduce some of this bias in search results, make sure to do enough background research so that you can use several appropriate search terms and can identify results that you retrieve that are not relevant or are problematic. Use the technique of iterative searching by trying multiple searches on different platforms and perhaps even in different disciplinary databases. Finally, make sure to periodically check the assumptions that you are making about your subject matter to try to ascertain some of your own preconceptions and biases as a researcher.


The overview in this chapter will help you begin your research project. Through refining your topic, gathering research materials from various sources, and evaluating different pieces of information, you can begin answering the questions you developed at the beginning of your search. Researching subjects related to LGBTQ+ issues presents some unique challenges because of the fraught nature of certain topics and requires certain ethical and privacy considerations. The other chapters in this book should give you an idea of different ways that you might approach LGBTQ+ research, in addition to providing you with deeper knowledge about the topics covered.


initialism. Using the first letters of words to create an abbreviation, for instance, LGBTQ+.

primary sources. Firsthand records and documents or original artifacts that are analyzed, studied, and interpreted. They include poems, legal documents, recordings, and any other direct evidence of a historical person, event, or topic.

truncation. A word-search method using the root of a word within a title or keyword search regardless of the word ending. An asterisk (*) in many databases signifies that the search should include multiple word endings.

Media Attributions

  1. National Association of Independent Schools, “Kimberlé Crenshaw: What Is Intersectionality?,” June 22, 2018,
  2. MIT Libraries, “Database Search Tips: Truncation,” accessed June 1, 2021,
  3. Walden University Library, “Keyword Searching: Finding Articles on Your Topic: Connect Keywords,” 2020,
  4. American Library Association, “Library Bill of Rights,”; American Library Association, “Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,”
  5. Wikipedia, s.v. “Libraries and the LGBTQ Community,” last modified May 19, 2021, 12:44,
  6. K. Nowak and A. J. Mitchell, “Classifying Identity: Organizing an LGBT Library,” Library Philosophy and Practice, 2016, p. 5,; D. Sullivan, “A Brief History of Homophobia in Dewey Decimal Classification,” Overland, July 23, 2015,
  7. Ohio Wesleyan University, “LGBTQIA+ Resources for OWU Students,” updated June 22, 2020,; Indiana University Bloomington, “Library of Congress Subject Headings for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) Topics,” February 9, 2016,
  8. Directory of Open Access Journals, 2020,
  9. M. Gorman, “Government Publications,” St. Cloud State University, 2013,
  10. A. Zald, “List of Foreign Governments,” updated May 25, 2021,
  11. University of California–Irvine Libraries, “What Are Primary Sources?,” 2021,
  12. IHLIA LGBT Heritage, “Archives,” 2021,
  13. M. Metcalf, “LGBTQ+ Studies: A Resource Guide,” Library of Congress Digital Collections, updated April 10, 2020,
  14. IHLIA LGBT Heritage, 2021,
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About the authors

Rachel Wexelbaum is institutional education supervisor at Minnesota Department of Corrections. She received her MLIS from San Jose State University in 2004 and is currently working on her doctorate in higher education administration. She has worked in multiple library types and archives and has taught for over twenty years. Her areas of library expertise include LGBTQ+ library resources and services, open access, scholarly communication, Wikipedia, and Creative Commons.


Gesina A. Phillips is the digital scholarship librarian at the University Library System of the University of Pittsburgh. She received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015, and her MA in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie Mellon University in 2012. She works on initiatives related to digital humanities, programming and creative code, research data management, copyright, and information literacy.



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Introduction to LGBTQ+ Studies: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach Copyright © by Rachel Wexelbaum and Gesina A. Phillips is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.