News & Events

03 July 2023

From Numbers to Narratives: Jay Garvey’s Exploration of Queer and Trans Experiences in Education

Jay Garvey is a 2022-23 scholar at The British Library Eccles Centre, and Friedman-Hipps Green and Gold Associate Professor of Education from The University of Vermont.

In a space where statistical analysis meets the narratives of queer and trans experiences, Jay Garvey, a self-proclaimed ‘quantitative queer,’ embarked on a Fulbright journey to transcend his research and personal experiences back home. As he ventured beyond his comfort zone, Jay's Fulbright story became one of personal growth, community-building, and the power of bringing statistics and storytelling together to shape the landscape of education policy and administration for queer and trans people. 
Jay has spent his career speaking directly to policymakers and administrators to ensure that statistical research involving educators and students fully captures queer and trans perspectives. However, Jay found himself and his research existing in a state of tension. On one hand, statistical analysis can be seen as objective and surrounded by long-held traditional norms. But among these norms, the rich fluidity of queer/trans people and communities can be difficult to quantify.  
Aiming to redefine the relationship between queerness and quantitative analysis, Jay established his research team, QTPiE (Queer and Trans People in Education). Currently consisting of roughly 20 researchers from across the US, QTPiE aims to “educate, advocate, and build coalitions that advance equitable policies and practices for queer and trans people in education.” Jay noted that the breadth of QTPiE members brings solidarity forth among marginalised communities, amplifying the “power and potential of statistics in more liberatory ways.” 
When he was eligible for a sabbatical, Jay was initially unsure about the accessibility of international fellowships for someone like himself: a queer scholar researching US education policy. When asked what led him to apply for his Fulbright, Jay elaborated that he yearned to push beyond his existing community and niche: “I thought long and hard about the impact that I wanted in my communities and the fulfilment that I wanted as a queer educator, and started looking for broader opportunities to share my work in scholarly communities that weren't typical for my sub discipline in higher education.”  

After hearing of the award through a colleague’s recommendation, Jay decided to apply for a Fulbright due to the unique positioning of the Fulbright-British Library Eccles Centre Scholar Award as specifically welcoming to research areas surrounding “LGBTQ in Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States” in their calls for proposals, as well as its “strong lens towards intersectional justice”. 

While setting off for his Fulbright, Jay noted the power of humanising research to bring about liberation: “Storytelling has an important foundation in queer movements, by us sharing our stories and really enacting social change through opening ourselves and our narratives.” 
Thus, Jay’s Fulbright mission was born: to explore the power of narratives to make change happen. In a pivot from quantitative research, he turned to his own autobiography as a vehicle to illuminate the pressing issues faced by queer individuals in education. 

The dance between data and storytelling became an intricate ballet: a fusion that evoked a full understanding of the human experience. Through travelling to the UK—an entirely different environment than he’s used to—Jay embraced the opportunity to explore the heightened emotion that comes with profound change, acknowledging, “that's been such a blessing because it's given me permission and agency to centre both thought and feeling as I'm writing this manuscript.”  
While his own story has provided a chance to look within when communicating with policymakers, Jay’s reflections surrounded one word to describe his Fulbright experience: community. “Community, both with Fulbright participants and staff with the British Library. Queer community, a new community of learners and researchers…For me, social change happens through relationships. What better commitment to have than broadening your community?” 

Community has transformed into a “beautifully blurred” and tight-knit group of personal and academic connections for Jay. He particularly recognized Philip Abraham, Cara Rodway, and Polly Russell at the Eccles Centre for making the British Library feel like a true academic home, giving him space to think, feel, and embrace the “slow process of discovery” as he’s written his manuscript. 

Jay’s Fulbright community became even further blurred (and indeed, closer-knit) as he took to Twitter to seek a flat in London. A Twitter mutual had reached out to him letting him know his flat would be available to rent for the semester—and as it happens, it turned out to be a fellow Fulbrighter who was embarking on a semester-long journey to Los Angeles, leaving a perfectly timed living space waiting for Jay.  

Beyond the walls of The British Library and his flat, Jay discovered moments of connection exploring the West End theatre scene and venturing into avant-garde queer bars in north London. He was also able to find further queer/trans kinship through a hiking group around the London area—though as he is based in Vermont, Jay found hikes in England to be slightly less rigorous than he’s used to.  

To round off his story, Jay left with the brightest highlight of his Fulbright: “My growth as a person, and as a scholar, and as a partner, and a queer person has been transformative and humbling. I never in my life thought I would have an opportunity like this. And I think I'll look back with such a great sense of appreciation for time to exhale and grow with a lot of support around me. It's been a gift.”