Why you should care

Because LGBTQ spirits also have stories to share.

The first time I watched Queer Ghost Hunters I kept waiting for the punch line. With dramatic music, an intense voice-over and a storyline that centered around a quest for lesbian nuns, there had to be a gotcha moment. Self-identified LGBTQ ghost hunters traipsed through cemeteries and old convents, brandishing dowsing rods and EMF detectors. “Were you in love with another sister?” they asked. Their equipment indicated yes.

That’s when the penny dropped and I realized these guys were 100 percent for real — which made the experience even better. Whether or not I accepted that their twitching devices represented LGBTQ’s Most Haunted, the focus on the historical narratives of a silenced people made the show simultaneously important and entertaining.

It’s weird that we always assume ghosts are heterosexual.

Shane McClelland, Ohio Resident

The genesis of the show can be attributed to Columbus, Ohio, resident Shane McClelland, a cherubic-looking 30-year-old who helped start the gay ghost-hunting movement in 2015. His goal was to discover untold queer stories — historically LGBTQ folk were more likely to be jailed or institutionalized, but their experiences weren’t addressed by mainstream ghost-hunting groups. “I’m a huge history buff, but when you start trying to find queer history, you notice it doesn’t exist,” McClelland says. “It’s weird that we always assume ghosts are heterosexual.”

The absence of raucous gay ghosts in haunted-house tours can partly be attributed to the coded language of LGBTQ folk and to the lack of records for this oral history. What’s known is generally community- or site-specific; during a ghost hunt at Ohio State Reformatory, for example, McClelland addressed the ghosts of gay inmates as “the ladies” as he’d learned they were called. Other phrases, such as lesbian nuns’ “particular friends,” are only known due to the diligent records the Catholic Church kept about deterring sister-on-sister action. This means every ghost hunt — there are three episodes in the series — starts with hitting the books and searching history for clues of kindred spirits.

McClelland is charmingly sincere about his spirit-seeking, saying he has sensed the “other” since he was a child. I’m convinced that he believes he’s finding real ghosts. I also think it’s wish fulfillment, something that McClelland, a practicing attorney, recognizes. “Most lawyers are logical, and I try to be rational, but at some point you have to go, ‘That was weird and I can’t explain it,’ ” he says. “I stick that in the paranormal box.” He wishes more research were happening in this area as he blames charlatans and their rip-off schemes as part of the reason why ghost hunting is so ridiculed.

Last year, McClelland’s ghost-hunting group got a bump when filmmaker Stu Maddux started shooting a documentary about their exploits and building out a YouTube channel. So far, Queer Ghost Hunters has had 60,000 views, with 3,559 subscribers, including me, a full-on skeptic. But believing in the paranormal is beside the point here as the team’s search for historic identities echoes the continuing struggle of disenfranchised people to find a voice today. “With the political climate right now, where rights are under attack, it’s comforting to know that stuff like this has happened [before], but we always persevered and survived,” McClelland says. Amen.

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