Wesley Phelps | Department of History

Wesley Phelps

Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies
WH 255
20th Century U.S. South and LGBTQ History


I study the history of the United States South in the twentieth century, with a particular interest in grassroots democracy, race and sexuality, and social and political activism. I teach courses on the South since the Civil War, LGBTQ history, and the 1960s. In my research, I am particularly interested in how democracy operates at the grassroots level and how marginalized groups of people have struggled to participate in the democratic experiment. Much of my recent work focuses on the gay and lesbian rights movement in Texas. My forthcoming book, Before Lawrence v. Texas: The Making of a Queer Social Movement, traces the 136-year history of legal challenges to Texas sodomy laws prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. I am currently producing a 10-episode podcast series, funded by Humanities Texas, titled "Queering the Lone Star State," which will serve as a companion series for my forthcoming book.

Select Publications:


Before Lawrence v. Texas: The Making of a Queer Social Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2023) https://utpress.utexas.edu/9781477322321/

A People's War on Poverty: Urban Politics and Grassroots Activists in Houston (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014) https://ugapress.org/book/9780820346717/a-peoples-war-on-poverty/

Select Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

"The Politics of Queer Disidentification and the Limits of Neoliberalism in the Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equality in Houston," Journal of Southern History 84, no. 2 (May 2018): 311-348.

"Women's Pentagon Action: The Persistence of Radicalism and Direct-Action Civil Disobedience in the Age of Reagan," Peace and Change 39, no. 3 (July 2014): 339-365.

"National Ideals Meet Local Reality: The Grassroots War on Poverty in Houston," in Richard B. McCaslin, Donald E. Chipman, and Andrew J. Torget, eds., This Corner of Canaan: Essays on Texas in Honor of Randolph B. Campbell (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013), 385-402.

"Ideological Diversity and the Implementation of the War on Poverty in Houston," in Annelise Orleck and Lisa Gayle Hazirjian, eds., The War on Poverty: A New Grassroots History, 1964-1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 87-109.

Select Awards:

Major Media Production Grant, awarded by Humanities Texas (2022)

University of North Texas Special Collections Research Fellowship, awarded by the Friends of the University of North Texas Libraries (2017)