LGBTQ+ History Month starts October 1st, 2022 to celebrate the legacy and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more community.
It is different than Pride Month, as it was specifically created with the intent of preserving LGBTQ+ history and encouraging the study of it.
When the observance was started, it mainly served as a call to action for the movement and its prosperity. But over the years, LGBTQ+ History Month has evolved into a national collaborative effort to bring extraordinary figures from the LGBTQ+ community into the spotlight.
The terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) describe distinct groups within the gay culture.
Since early initiatives for people who were gay focused mostly on men, in an attempt to draw attention to issues specific to gay women, “lesbian” is often listed first.
People who are bisexual or transgender have been traditionally underrepresented in research studies and health initiatives but it is now standard to include those two groups along with gay men and lesbians.
The observance was created by Rodney Wilson, a history teacher at a Missouri high school, in 1994. The following year, LGBTQ+ History Month was added to the list of commemorative months in a resolution forwarded by the General Assembly of the National Education Association. October was chosen as the month of observance as National Coming Out Day already existed as a holiday on October 11. Also, the anniversary of the first march for gay rights in Washington took place on October 14, 1979.
LGBTQ+ History Month now also includes Ally Week — during which students are encouraged to be allies with LGBTQ members and stand up against bullying, Spirit Day on October 20 — on which the color purple is worn in solidarity with LGBTQ youth, and the death anniversary of Matthew Shepard — a 21-year-old who was murdered in a hate crime on October 12, 1998.
LGBTQ+ History Month allows the opportunity to extensively learn about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, and what factors and measures will be successful in building communities and providing role models who will best represent and address the issues of the LGBTQ+ community.
The month-long commemoration is most prominently celebrated in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Hungary, Brazil, and the city of Berlin. The particular month of celebration varies across different countries — in the United States, Canada, and Australia, LGBTQ+ History Month is celebrated in October; in the United Kingdom and Hungary, it is celebrated in February; and in Berlin, the holiday is celebrated in June and is known as Queer History Month.
Most historians agree that there is evidence of homosexual activity and same-sex love, whether such relationships were accepted or persecuted, in every documented culture.
On June 12, 2016, the popular gay dance club Pulse in Orlando was the site of a mass shooting by one assailant. With at least 49 dead and another 50 injured, this hate crime is being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. It occurred during what was LGBT Pride weekend for towns and cities in and beyond the United States.
In the United States, there were few attempts to create advocacy groups supporting gay and lesbian relationships until after World War II. However, prewar gay life flourished in urban centers such as New York’s Greenwich Village and Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
The blues music of African-American women showcased varieties of lesbian desire, struggle and humor; these performances, along with male and female drag stars, introduced a gay underworld to straight patrons during Prohibition’s defiance of race and sex codes in speakeasy clubs.
The disruptions of World War II allowed formerly isolated gay men and women to meet as soldiers and war workers; and other volunteers were uprooted from small towns and posted worldwide.
Many minds were opened by wartime, during which LGBT people were both tolerated in military service and officially sentenced to death camps in the Holocaust.
This increasing awareness of an existing and vulnerable population, coupled with Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s investigation of homosexuals holding government jobs during the early 1950s outraged writers and federal employees whose own lives were shown to be second-class under the law, including Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Allen Ginsberg and Harry Hay.
Awareness of a burgeoning civil rights movement (Martin Luther King’s key organizer Bayard Rustin was a gay man) led to the first American- based political demands for fair treatment of gays and lesbians in mental health, public policy and employment.
Studies such as Alfred Kinsey’s 1947 Kinsey Report suggested a far greater range of homosexual identities and behaviors than previously understood, with Kinsey creating a “scale” or spectrum ranging from complete heterosexual to complete homosexual.
The primary organization for gay men as an oppressed cultural minority was the Mattachine Society, founded in 1950 by Harry Hay and Chuck Rowland.
Other important homophile organizations on the West Coast included One, Inc., founded in 1952, and the first lesbian support network Daughters of Bilitis, founded in 1955 by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.
Through meetings and publications, these groups offered information and outreach to thousands. These first organizations soon found support from prominent sociologists and psychologists.
In 1951, Donald Webster Cory published “The Homosexual in America”, asserting that gay men and lesbians were a legitimate minority group, and in 1953 Evelyn Hooker, PhD, won a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study gay men. Her groundbreaking paper, presented in 1956, demonstrated that gay men were as well-adjusted as heterosexual men, often more so.
But it would not be until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as an “illness” classification in its diagnostic manual.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay men and lesbians continued to be at risk for psychiatric lockup as well as jail, losing jobs, and/or child custody when courts and clinics defined gay love as sick, criminal or immoral.
In 1965, as the civil rights movement won new legislation outlawing racial discrimination, the first gay rights demonstrations took place in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., led by longtime activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.
The turning point for gay liberation came on June 28, 1969, when patrons of the popular Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village fought back against ongoing police raids of their neighborhood bar.
Stonewall is still considered a watershed moment of gay pride and has been commemorated since the 1970s with “pride marches” held every June across the United States.
Recent scholarship has called for better acknowledgement of the roles that drag performers, people of color, bisexuals and transgender patrons played in the Stonewall Riots.
The gay liberation movement of the 1970s saw myriad political organizations spring up, often at odds with one another.
Frustrated with the male leadership of most gay liberation groups, lesbians influenced by the feminist movement of the 1970s formed their own collectives, record labels, music festivals, newspapers, bookstores, and publishing houses, and called for lesbian rights in mainstream feminist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Gatherings such as women’s music concerts, bookstore readings and lesbian festivals well beyond the United States were extraordinarily successful in organizing women to become activists; the feminist movement against domestic violence also assisted women to leave abusive marriages, while retaining custody of children became a paramount issue for lesbian mothers.
Expanding religious acceptance for gay men and women of faith, the first out gay minister was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1972. Other gay and lesbian church and synagogue congregations soon followed.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), formed in 1972, offered family members greater support roles in the gay rights movement.
Political action exploded through the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, the election of openly gay and lesbian representatives like Elaine Noble and Barney Frank, and, in 1979, the first march on Washington for gay rights.
The increasing expansion of a global LGBT rights movement suffered a setback during the 1980s, as the gay male community was decimated by the AIDS epidemic, demands for compassion and medical funding led to renewed coalitions between men and women as well as angry street theatre by groups like AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Queer Nation.
Enormous marches on Washington drew as many as one million gay rights supporters in 1987 and again in 1993. Right wing religious movements, spurred on by beliefs that AIDS was God’s punishment, expanded via direct mail. A New Right coalition of political lobby groups competed with national LGBT organizations in Washington, seeking to create religious exemptions from any new LGBT rights protections.
In the same era, one wing of the political gay movement called for an end to military expulsion of gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers, with the high-profile case of Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer publicized through a made-for- television movie, “Serving in Silence.” In spite of the patriotism and service of gay men and lesbians in uniform, the uncomfortable and unjust compromise “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” emerged as an alternative to decades of military witch hunts and dishonorable discharges. Yet more service members ended up being discharged under DADT.
During in the last decade of the 20th century, millions of Americans watched as actress Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television in April 1997, heralding a new era of gay celebrity power and media visibility—although not without risks.
Celebrity performers, both gay and heterosexual, continued to be among the most vocal activists calling for tolerance and equal rights. With greater media attention to gay and lesbian civil rights in the 1990s, trans and intersex voices began to gain space through works such as Kate Boernstein’s “Gender Outlaw” (1994) and “My Gender Workbook” (1998), Ann Fausto-Sterling’s “Myths of Gender” (1992) and Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors (1998), enhancing shifts in women’s and gender studies to become more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary identities.
As a result of hard work by countless organizations and individuals, helped by internet and direct-mail campaign networking, the 21st century heralded new legal gains for gay and lesbian couples.
Same-sex civil unions were recognized under Vermont law in 2000 and Massachusetts became the first state to perform same-sex marriages in 2004; with the end of state sodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003), gay and lesbian Americans were finally free from criminal classification.
Gay marriage was first legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada; but the recognition of gay marriage by church and state continued to divide opinion worldwide.
After the impressive gains for LGBT rights in post-apartheid South Africa, conservative evangelicals in the U.S. began providing support and funding for homophobic campaigns overseas.
Uganda’s dramatic death penalty for gays and lesbians was perhaps the most severe in Africa.
The first part of the 21st century saw new emphasis on transgender activism and the increasing usage of terminology that questioned binary gender identification.
Images of trans women became more prevalent in film and television, as did programming with same-sex couples raising children.
Transphobia, cissexism and other language (such as “hir” and “them”) became standardized, and film and television programming featured more openly trans youth and adult characters.
Tensions between lesbian and trans activists, however, remained, with the long-running Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival boycotted by national LGBT groups over the issue of trans inclusion; like many woman-only events with a primarily lesbian base, Michfest had supported an ideal of ingathering women and girls born female.
The festival ended after its fortieth anniversary in August 2015.
Internet activism burgeoned, while many of the public, physical gathering spaces that once defined LGBT activism (bars, bookstores, women’s music festivals) began to vanish, and the usage of “queer” replaced lesbian identification for many younger women activists.
Attention shifted to global activism as U.S. gains were not matched by similar equal rights laws in the 75 other countries where homosexuality remained illegal.
As of 2016, LGBT identification and activism was still punishable by death in ten countries: Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen; the plight of the LGBT community in Russia received intense focus during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, to which President Obama sent a contingent of out LGBT athletes.
Supportive remarks from the new Pope Francis (“Who am I to judge?”) gave hope to LGBT Catholics worldwide.
Perhaps the greatest changes in the U.S. occurred between spring 2015 and spring 2016: in late spring 2015 Alison Bechdel’s lesbian-themed Broadway production Fun Home won several Tony awards, former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner, and then in June of 2015, the Supreme Court decision recognized same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges).
By spring 2016 the Academy Awards recognized films with both lesbian and transgender themes: Carol and The Danish Girl.
And the Supreme Court had avowed that a lesbian family adoption in one state had to be recognized in all states. However, the United States also saw intense racial profiling confrontations and tragedies in this same period, turning LGBT activism to “intersectionality,” or recognition of intersections issues of race, class, gender identity and sexism.
With the June 12 attacks on the Pulse Club in Orlando, that intersectionality was made plain as straight allies held vigils grieving the loss of young Latino drag queens and lesbians of color; with unanswered questions about the killer’s possible identification with ISIS terrorism, other voices now call for alliances between the LGBT and Muslim communities, and the greater recognition of perspectives from those who are both Muslim and LGBT in the U.S. and beyond.
The possible repression of identity which may have played a role in the killer’s choice of target has generated new attention to the price of homophobia –internalized, or culturally expressed— in and beyond the United States.
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