Queer Ghost Hunters
Queer Ghost Hunters is an awesome web series by acclaimed director Stu Maddux, about a group of LGBT ghost hunters who try to make contact with LGBT spirits and unearth hidden stories of lost LGBTQ lives. Throughout history, LGBTQ community members have been disproportionately incarcerated in jails and prisons, committed to asylums or overwhelmingly employed in theaters and opera houses, all areas and places that ghost hunters love to investigate, but seemingly always through cisgender, heterosexual perspectives.
Psychic Punx contributor Lana Holmes spoke to Shane McClelland – Queer Ghost Hunters Co-Founder / Team Leader, and Joe Applebaum – Executive Producer of Queer Ghost Hunters, about their experiences so far with QGH, LGBTQ ghosts, and coming out as both LGBTQ and extra-sensory. She was also interested in hearing about their thoughts, if any, on the spiritual aspect of their work.
Psychic Punx: Quite often people within the LGBT community, individuals with extrasensory perception, and people who are interested in the paranormal are marginalized. What was it like for you to come out as members of more than one of the aforementioned groups?
Shane: It’s interesting to me that you asked the question this way, as I frequently describe telling people that I’m a “ghost hunter” as very similar to coming out. To put it simply it’s difficult.
My coming out story is a little different than most. I was previously married to a woman, and [didn’t] come out until I was 26. As a result, it was much more difficult because I wasn’t just coming out in the traditional way. It was impacting a lot of people and their hopes and dreams that surrounded that relationship.
I had always been somewhat interested in the paranormal – in all its forms. Largely due to [the experiences] I had while growing up. I was used to discussing those thoughts and experiences with close friends and family, and had come to realize that most people have shared experiences and interests in the paranormal. However, coming out more broadly as a ghost hunter was…difficult. People can be very judgmental, and I assumed my larger network of friends would be put off by this interest of mine. What I’ve discovered though, is that if anyone is laughing at me, they’re laughing alone. People have taken advantage of my openness on this subject and shared their stories with me. People want to know what I’ve experienced and hear my stories. It’s been a great way to deepen connections with folks. They’ll tell you about their childhood, or the haunted house their aunt had and the crazy stuff that happened there. Folks will discuss their perceived extrasensory abilities with me; they’ll ask what it’s like to know a ghost is present. It’s been well received and a fantastic opportunity to connect with more people….very similar to when I came out as a gay man.
Joe: For me personally, it was not a big deal. Growing up in [a] progressive, “anything goes” environment like San Francisco made it less complicated. Ever since I was young I had been interested in things other people may have considered a bit odd. I’m the one that was interested in science fiction almost compulsively so when my interests began to include the paranormal no one really took notice…sort of the same way when I came out as a gay man. I wish more people had the same experience. I think too many people, even today, and oddly enough in my opinion, within our own community look at people interested in paranormal as different.
PP: It was mentioned by Shane that Lori and he realized that they assumed ghosts were straight and perhaps cisgender. Do you find that many paranormal investigators have made the same assumptions? If so, has your work inspired them to broaden their perspective?
Shane: Yeah. Lori and I started investigating with another group of folks – it was a mix of heterosexual and homosexual people. In fact, the folks who invited [us] on the very first formal investigation were a lesbian couple that Lori met at a Stonewall Columbus event. Anyway, while the group was truly fantastic, and while it was a mix of sexualities, we consistently asked hetero-normative questions. Which, I think in general is probably what most (maybe all) investigative groups do. However, one late night after an investigation, Lori and I were driving back together as we often did, and discussing the investigation and all of our paranormal theories and how they relate to this and that, and how various religions tie in, how mythology fits, etc. Finally, and I forget exactly which one of us brought it up, but it struck us as odd that we had never met a queer entity.
At the time we were both working at the LGBTQ community center. We were and are advocates and activists…yet, we were being hetero-normative. After discussing if sexuality continues into the afterlife (we think it can, and even if it can’t entities can be aware of their life when they had a physical body), we decided that we would start asking queer questions and to speak to queer entities. From there we decided that maybe other queer people would be interested in doing this. So we created The Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters, which eventually led to Stu Maddux wanting to film our group.
That last part was the key in really spreading awareness of the concept. It wasn’t entirely new – there are several accounts of queer ghosts haunting a location. But we were really the first people to make it a focus of our efforts. Because of that other groups have been taken with the idea, and we’ve heard from tons of other investigators that they have started thinking about this and adding it to their questions when they make contact. Which, we think is fantastic.
Joe: I simply don’t believe that most paranormal investigators (and by that I mean straight ones) even give it a thought. I don’t think they go out searching for LGBT entities and for that very reason don’t contact any. We work hard to create a welcoming environment when we try to make contact so if there are any LGBT [ghosts] present they feel comfortable in identifying themselves.
PP: What are your thoughts about spirituality, religion, life, and death?
Shane: I’ll let you know when I have it all figured out!
I was raised in a Christian faith based home. I still tend to subscribe to those beliefs, but more as a framework within which I can explore my own spirituality. Having been educated on different religions, I find it difficult to hold one as my exclusive religion. I like describing whatever higher power that may exist as The Universe. I think you can use your energy, prayer, magic, to convey your hopes and desires in a way to hopefully manifest them. I think humans have souls or some kind of unique energy that can perhaps transcend our current notions of space and time.
As far as life and death, I’m not entirely sure. I like to believe that there is a higher power. That the most acceptable service we can provide to them is doing good to our fellow humans and creatures of this world. That our energy is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life, with respect to its conduct in this life. Be good, do good.
Joe: I was raised Catholic and like many others I didn’t have a choice in the matter. When I became old enough to decide for myself I moved away from organized religion. Quite honestly in my opinion it is responsible for so much suffering in the world. I am sure that will piss off someone but I truly believe that. Having said all of that, I do consider myself a spiritual person and I work in my own way to improve my own sense of spirituality from within myself. Progress not perfection, right? In regards to life and death, I firmly believe that this life is only the beginning. I believe that we all do go on at the end of this short time here on Earth. The question is what is it? I question if our life force is somehow transported to another dimension that somehow can interface with this one. I guess we will never know for sure, but I think anyone who believes that this is all there is and death is the end is very short sighted.
PP: How do you choose which locations to investigate or which spirits to contact?
Shane: At first, we kind of just went wherever we wanted. Queer people have existed throughout history and in all places, so we can go anywhere. Later we decided to focus on queer places, so we could share the queer history of the location and people. It takes a lot of research, but what we’ve been able to do is read the history with an eye toward “that’s a weird way to describe someone” – kind of reading between the lines. For much of history queer people existed and weren’t disturbed. But they would be written about in a book or the newspaper, and you can often see the author going out of their way to say “hey, this person is queer, but we don’t talk about that, but I’m saying it because we all know it anyway, wink wink.” As a result, we’ve encountered a lot folks who may have led a heterosexual life, but seemingly at least, had homosexual lovers. We’ve used that information to select locations and to try to make contact with more specific entities. That said, we are always open to other entities that may not be on our radar but that self- identify as queer. They tend to pop up during an investigation and are usually excited to chat with us, in a safe space – likely, for the first time in their life.
Joe: At this point we have been able to choose the ‘low hanging fruit’ so to speak. The locations we have chosen thus far have reputations for paranormal and possibly LGBT contact. We try to do research before each investigation to see if there are records of individuals we may want to try and contact. Season 2 of our show was shot at Ohio State Reformatory where the movie Shawshank Redemption was filmed. There are many, many records that we spent weeks searching through in an effort to identify the names and history of individuals so when we went in we had a head start on what we were looking for.
PP: Your team and the show really emphasize showing compassion towards spirits as well as their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. How has this approach impacted the spirits? For example, have any of them thanked you for your help and sharing their stories?
Joe: Absolutely. Shane will speak to this in detail I’m sure, but we go in and always try to create a welcoming environment in an effort to strike up free flowing conversation. Some of the conversations have been quite cordial.
Shane: We attempt to create a safe space. When we start the investigation we form a circle, focus on surrounding ourselves with white light, and then we introduce the group and what queer means. After that, we have each individual person introduce themselves, and say how they identify. We then invite any entities that may similarly identify to talk with us. What we’ve found is that this opens the door for entities to come chat with us. We are safe people and interested in connecting and learning and hearing their story as best we can. By explaining, really over explaining, what queer means in all of its forms, we are able to bridge the language and concept gap that exists. A lot of the words we use today are newer and did not exist prior to that. The same is true with some of the concepts we have today as it relates to gender and sexuality – queer people have always existed, but there hasn’t always been words to describe them.
Entities are often very thankful to have the opportunity to share with similar folks. They’re excited and often seemingly (from our perception) sad when we have to end communication or leave.
PP: What were your perceptions of spirits before creating the show? How has that changed since the show launched?
Shane: I don’t personally think my perception of spirits has changed as a result of the show. If anything the show has made me more aware and more willing to explore all conceivable possibilities for what spirits may be.
I have always been sensitive to the presence of spirits – I haven’t assigned myself a label for that ability or any of the others that I have. So, I’ve known they existed and have explored the theories and thoughts of what they are for a while. To better answer your question, I currently think there are two possibilities: 1. Spirits are the non-physical embodiment of the soul; 2. Spirits are beings from another dimension. Haunted locations are simply locales where the two different worlds are more closely in contact, and what we perceive as a spirit is actually another being – with us likely being perceived as spirits to them as well. I think both theories can be true, without making the other false.
Joe: Before the show I always believed but I never had an opportunity to put myself right in the middle of it like I do now. It’s exciting. I look forward to each hunt and who we may make contact with. It’s fun to try and share this with others through the vehicle of this show.
PP: What has been the most rewarding experience of creating the show?
Shane: Going into this we thought it could just be a fun way to engage the queer community in a unique hobby, where some of the time it would be documented and part of the show. What I don’t think anyone realized is the impact the show would have on the queer community, and the paranormal community as well. It has given queer people a way to see and learn about our history, and it has opened the eyes to the broader paranormal community to the fact that queer entities exist.
But, the most rewarding experience has been, and continues to be our fans and the folks that watch the series. Just knowing that people are enjoying what you do, and then leaving heartwarming comments about how it has impacted them is…amazing. I don’t really don’t think any of us thought people would relate to the series so strongly.
Joe: Honestly the most rewarding experience for me personally is when we speak to an entity and they seem really happy to talk to us and interact. This show is also about the QGH team and how they work and laugh together as they try to make contact. It’s a team effort. Everyone brings something to the table and it’s fun to see their personal qualities come out as we progress with the series.
PP: Do you have any advice for queer ghost hunters, mediums, or psychics?
Shane: I think it’s important to know the history of whatever you are exploring. It helps give you a framework [for] the subject and can allow you to learn from the mistakes of others. Outside of that, just go do it. Explore. Have fun. Be open to everything and every possibility. The paranormal world has more questions than it does real answers. If we all take the time to educate ourselves and think about the ‘why’ – maybe someday we’ll have more answers.
Joe: Only this: Don’t take this all too seriously. Have fun with it and go in with a good frame of mind when trying to communicate. We have found that projecting ‘good vibes’ goes a lot farther than yelling at them!
PP: What can we expect from Queer Ghost Hunters in the future?
Shane: Even more exciting adventures! Season 2 will be released on June 23rd [ed: at the time of publishing, Season 2 was scheduled for release on June 30] during Pride Month. It was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio (most of you probably are familiar with it from other paranormal shows, or the film Shawshank Redemption). Our investigations were some of the best that I have been on, and our take is definitely more unique than anything you’ve seen in the past. Obviously, we were fortunate enough to make contact with many queer spirits – at least 50 men were incarcerated at the reformatory under charges of sodomy. They had an entire section of cells devoted to queer men. The history and stories we uncovered are just fabulous.
We are currently still scouting locations for season 3, but from current conversations it is shaping up to be an even better season.
Folks can support our work through Patreon – and they get some extra behind the scenes videos for their support too. You can also keep up to date on our adventures by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; and if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, we try to post unique content outside of our regular episodes. We’ll also eventually discuss what season 3 is going to be like!
Joe: QGH will move into Season 2 on YouTube starting in late June. Our hope is to attract another platform whether it be mainstream television (cable) or something like Netflix or Amazon where we can broaden our viewership and reach a larger audience. Fingers crossed! We also have plans to start organizing community hunts that could take us to places like Gettysburg or a Southern Plantation – just to name a couple of future locations.
Check out the Season 2 trailer!
Happy Pride Month! 🏳️🌈 👻