A 2015 alumna is the author of the first comprehensive study of queer lives in New Mexico, and in honor of Women’s History Month, the Department of History is bringing her back to campus for a very special presentation of her new book, Wide-Open Desert: A Queer History of New Mexico.
Jordan Biro Walters is an assistant professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio where she teaches history and women’s gender and sexuality studies. Biro Walters will return to campus this month for the Department of History’s annual Women’s History Month Lecture, which began in 2019 thanks to a generous gift from Professor Emeritus, Jane Slaughter, whose passion for women’s history inspired the series.
The Department of History’s annual Women’s History Month lecture will be held Tuesday, March 21 from 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. in the Common Room (MVH 1104).
Melissa Bokovoy, chair and professor of History, praised the annual lecture for providing a platform that “recognizes innovative scholarship that introduces new, innovative, and/or underrepresented perspectives to our university community.
Biro Walters’ new book excavates the archive to provide the first history of New Mexico’s LGBTQ+ residents and the spaces they have inhabited in the 20th century.
Wide Open Desert is a 10-year labor of love, which began when Biro Walters was a Ph.D. candidate in UNM's Department of History. Realizing that queer history in the American Southwest is an understudied region outside of gay urban meccas, she set out to uncover the rich history that flourished here long before a formalized gay liberation movement.
What resulted from her research was a composite portrait of queer lives in New Mexico spanning 70 years. With very little research done previously on this topic, Biro Walters studied various archives, unpublished personal narratives, private visual queer representations, and oral histories to document New Mexico’s rich history of queer cultural expression and sexual politics.
Biro Walters hopes that this initial volume encourages future scholars to build upon this important discussion about racially diverse queer representations, which have often been left out of the narratives of queer history.
“I want the audience to know that New Mexico has a long queer history and remains a center of queer creativity... I hope my research inspires others to ask more questions, to offer different perspectives, and to ponder things I may have missed,” said Biro Walters.
Her lecture will be the third installment of this special series, which has previously featured presentations by Carmella Scorcia Pacheco (MA, Spanish/Southwest Studies, 2011) and Ajla Škrbić, a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität Department of Law in Berlin, Germany.
Since receiving her Ph.D. from UNM, Biro Walters has gone on to receive numerous accolades for her work, including the 2020 Jensen-Miller Award from the Western History Association and the Louis Knott Koontz Memorial article for best article in the Pacific Historical Review. Both awards were in recognition of her biographical article on world-renowned artist, R.C. Gorman (Diné/Navajo).
She was also selected as a recipient of the College of Wooster’s 2021 Experiential Learning Award, and the 2019 Gault-Welty Business & Community Award for her directorship of the Wooster Digital History Project (WDHP).
“I am fortunate to have been academically nurtured at UNM by many talented faculty, staff, and graduate students who helped shape the project,” said Biro Walters about her experience as a UNM student. “Additionally, community members, residents of the state, generously shared their stories with me.”