The Ghosts You Never Ask About: How These LGBTQ+ Ghost Hunters are Preserving Queer History

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On the fifth floor of Ohio University’s Alden Library lies the “Spook Files,” a black folder that holds 64 pages of newspaper article copies of paranormal activity in and around Athens, Ohio. The county of Athens has an extensive history of hauntings, and there are several ghost hunting groups throughout Ohio. One group of ghost hunters thought even with this extensive history, something was missing, so they went in search of ghosts like them– queer ghosts.”



A pulsing static comes from the spirit box, a small black radio-like device that fits in the palm of a hand. The spirit box is one of several tools used to communicate with ghosts. Showing off the box is Shane McClelland leader of “The Queer Ghost Hunters,” a ghost hunting group with a popular youtube series.

“My name is Shane, he/him/his. I’m an attorney here in Columbus, and I also queer ghost hunt,” McClelland said.

McClelland is no stranger to ghosts. He experienced paranormal encounters regularly growing up in his parents’ house and in his house during law school. Those experiences inspired him to get into ghost hunting. Eventually, he and past teammate Lori realized they were overlooking something.

“We realized that we weren’t asking about gay ghosts or lesbian ghosts or trans ghosts or bisexual ghosts and I was always like we assumed that folks would be straight,” McClelland said. “We decided and resolved that we would start asking those questions.”

Some may wonder whether the ghosts are queer or whether the ghost hunters are queer? The answer is both. The current team is made up of four people.

“It’s me, Michelle, Susan, and Kai. I’m gay. Michelle and Susan are a lesbian couple and Kai is trans. But he also has Aspergers,” McClelland said.

The number of team members has fluctuated over time, but at the moment it is just the four of them. To find out whether the ghosts they’re talking to are queer, the team uses dowsing rods. The rods are no thicker than a wire hanger. They are made of copper and shaped like an “L” with a copper tube paced on the short end. The tubes allow for near frictionless movement where the parts connect. Ghosts have to be made out of something. Some people think they are made up of electromagnetic particles, so the theory is that since copper is more conductive, ghosts can interact with it.

“You can eventually form yes-no, true-false communication with an entity,” McClelland said. “You ask them, ‘if I ask you a yes or no question, what would you signify as yes?’  Maybe they cross. It enables you to kinda of form more of a dialogue then with a lot of the other devices.”

Unlike the spirit box, the dowsing rods are mostly silent save for the occasional clinking against each other.

In their youtube series, the Queer Ghost Hunters provide an episode explaining how the dowsing rods work.

“Now let me ask you this: Did you have to keep it a secret?” Team member Lori Gum asks a ghost in the episode, referring to if the ghost had to keep who they loved a secret. The dowsing rods cross in response, meaning yes. The group starts asking questions with the dowsing rods only after coming out to the ghosts, as the clips in the youtube series show. In a large, dark room in Part Nine of the first season, the team members come out to the ghosts and explain the terms that they identify with.

“We’re the queer ghost hunters, men who are sexually and romantically attracted an involved with other men,” McClelland said in the circle, following with including women who are sexually and romantically attracted to other women, simplifying the term “gay” to overcome the change in language over the years.

Everyone present at the location will sit in circle and introduce themselves and how they identify.

“We have transgender members who don’t identify with their gender that was assigned to them at birth,” McClelland said.

The purpose of this opening ritual is to create safe space for any ghosts who might share a similar identity.

“So if there is anyone in the entire building who relates to that or even if you’re just curious, we would love to, um, interact with you,” McClelland said, inviting the ghosts to join them. “But eventually some entity will make itself known and it’s like ‘Hey….I think I’m like you.’”

Recognizing that “I’m like you,” is important not just to the ghost, but to other queer people today, like the viewers of the youtube channel. The group’s uniqueness distinguishes them from other ghost hunting groups. According to Dr. Brian Collins, there aren’t any other queer ghost hunting groups in Ohio that he knows of. Dr. Collins is a professor in the department of classics and world religions at Ohio University. This semester, he is teaching a class about ghosts and religion. The class is called “Global Occult: Ghosts, Demonology, the Paranormal and World Religions.”

“We look at things like ghosts and possessions and demons and UFOs from a religious studies perspective,” Dr. Collins said.

Dr. Collins is knowledgeable about the history of ghost hauntings in Athens County as well.

“There are tons of ghost encounters in Athens,” Dr. Collins said. “Whenever I ask the class, two-thirds of the hands go up. There’s The Ridges, there’s Mt. Nebo where the Koons family was. And there is the Mothman who is not in Athens, but 45 minutes away across the river in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. That was probably one of the most famous paranormal encounters in American history and it’s right in our backyard.”

He thinks the queer ghost hunters are an example of a larger practice of looking at texts for examples and references of queer people who might have been overlooked in the past. This practice is also known as “queering.” In his field there are multiple researchers interested in queering religion and history by re-examining old texts.

“And so they go back through the Bible or through Indian mythology and find stories, characters or sort of open questions that can be interpreted as the voice of queer people sort of preserved in these texts but always overlooked,” Dr. Collins said.

The queer ghost hunting group is preserving these queer voices of the past through their conversations. The team often visits prisons and asylums, where queer people in general have historically been institutionalized simply for being gay.

“What we’ve been able to show especially through the series, is that look, here’s a whole roster of gay men who were in prison literally because they were gay,” McClelland said. “And no one talks to these folks because no one cares about that.”

This queering of history let’s people know they’re not alone. McClelland gave an example about a 14 year old boy in Nebraska who watches their show and is thrilled to see gay people on TV.

“That little tiny thing is huge for that one person. There’s probably thousands of him around the world,” McClelland said.

The best part about queering ghost hunting is that anyone can do it.

“It’s honestly ridiculously easy,” McClelland said. “The fundamentally easiest thing is that 1.) you always need permission no matter where you go, cuz otherwise its trespassing and 2.) you really just need like a flashlight and maybe a recorder or your cellphone to record stuff if that’s what you want.”

Of course, there are always a few rules to remember, Dr. Collins points out.

“I recommend them not to do anything illegal or go any places off limits or filled with asbestos, not to disturb places like cemeteries or private homes,” Dr. Collins said.

Both Dr. Collins and McClelland emphasized not to go to The Ridges as it would be trespassing, but there are plenty of other well-documented sites of paranormal activity throughout Athens, Ohio. You can find many of these locations listed in the Spook Files on the fifth floor of Alden Library. The files mention places like: Mount Nebo, 24 East State Street, Lake Hope State Park, Wilson Hall, Timmons Bridge, Hope Furnace, under the waterfall at John Bryson State Park, the brown house on top of Jefferson Hill, Moonville Tunnel, The Ridges and others.

For more information on the Queer Ghost hunters you can follow them @queerghosthunters on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram and then on Twitter @queerghosthunt.