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Highland Square in Akron, Ohio
Highland Square in Akron, Ohio, the focus of the project's first neighborhood study. Photo © Mark Turnauckas

Contact Information

Molly Merryman, PhD
Principal Investigator
mmerryma@kent.edu

330-672-0315

Cara Gilgenbach
cgilgenb@kent.edu


LGBTQ Neighborhood Project

The LGBTQ Neighborhoods Project is a multi-year, multi-pronged research project that is studying LGBTQ populations in Ohio's seven major cities (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). The project will include both qualitative and quantitative analyses of LGBTQ urban populations and will gather oral history interviews with former and current residents of Ohio's gay neighborhoods. These interviews will become part of a unique primary source collection that will eventually be accessible worldwide and will be housed in the KSU Libraries' Special Collections.

The faculty researchers for the Ohio LGBTQ Neighborhoods Project are Cara Gilgenbach and Molly Merryman.

  • Cara Gilgenbach has worked in academic libraries, both as a student employee and as a professional librarian, since 1989. She is a graduate of the College of Wooster majoring in women's studies, and she earned her Master of Library Science at Kent State University. Since 2003 she has served as Head of Special Collections and Archives at the Kent State University Libraries. Prior appointments include Associate Curator at the Kent State University Libraries; University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Denison University; and Project Archivist at the University of Akron. Since 2004 she has led an initiative in Ohio to create a centralized repository for archival finding aids that describe the unique collections located in cultural heritage institutions around the state. She helped to establish the LGBT archival collection in Kent State University Special Collections and Archives in 2010.
  • Molly Merryman, Ph.D. is the principal investigator for this project. She is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, and is co-founder and coordinator of the LGBT Studies program. Her areas of expertise include enthnographic film and documentaries, victimology, inequalities, sex work and crime and justice in popular culture and mass media. She is the author of one book and numerous articles, and is the director and producer of five documentaries. Her documentary films have screened internationally, at film festivals and conferences, been broadcast on regional PBS stations, and have received national awards and recognitions.


Akron, Ohio: Highland Lives

The first phase of the Ohio LGBTQ Neighborhoods Project involved conducting videotaped interviews of residents from Akron's Highland Square neighborhood. Four faculty from LGBT Studies (Gilgenbach, Merryman, David Purcell (Sociology and LGBT Studies), and Lauren Vachon (English and LGBT Studies) taught a special topics class, LGBTQ Methodologies, and six undergraduate students took the class and along with faculty interviewed residents of Highland Square. The student researchers were: Caitlyn Dillehay, Ashley Gregg, Jessica Rogers, Abigail Rosh, Courtney Thaman, and Brian Wakely.  The interview subjects were Theresa Bereyle, Ken Ditlevson, Michael Dunbar, Joseph Gardner, John Grafton, Brandon Huth, Matthew Kajder, Sandra Kurt, Kevin Pribble, Rosemary Reymann, Joe Rohr, Steven Schmidt, Scott Sella, Scott Sheridan and Richard Worswick. These interviews consist of more than 30 hours of high definition video.

One result of the Akron study is the 30-minute documentary Highland Lives, which combines interviews with archival photographs to tell the stories of Akron and its Highland Square neighborhood, as well as stories of gay, lesbian and transgendered people who live there.

Highland Lives will premiere at the August 2014 international Gay Games, with video kiosk screenings at Flair Fest in downtown Akron and at the Game Change conference at the University of Akron.


The Akron study was funded by the KSU College of Arts and Sciences' Collaborative Research Program. Additional support for the documentary Highland Lives was provided by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Department of Sociology.


If you are an LGBTQ-identified person who lives in one of Ohio's seven largest cities (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) and are interested in being interviewed for the LGBTQ Neighborhoods Project or would like to donate papers and other materials to the LGBT Special Collection, please contact Molly Merryman or Cara Gilgenbach.