My history matters even though I’m conditioned to believe it doesn’t.
Knowing the significance of black and women’s history, I’m left wondering why the LGBT experience isn’t seen as equitable in mainstream education.
We have months dedicated to the histories of marginalized people, but I bet many are not aware that October is dedicated to queer history.
Somewhere among black liberation, the chicano movement, feminism and all other results of social exclusion — the process of denying marginalized people full access to rights, resources and opportunities — lies queer history. I use “queer” as an interchangeable term for LGBT because I believe in the movement to reclaim the once-slur as an umbrella for the community. While some may not identify with it, I find a power in the unification “queer” provides. Regardless, there’s an erasure of this history from our collective history.
This invisibility makes me believe that my history doesn’t matter; but it does.
Queer history is crucial, as with any other movement or moment, because it is ingrained in society whether we like it or not. From the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that first mobilized the mainstream fight for LGBT rights and pride to the legalization of gay marriage in 2015, my history is a part of America’s narrative.
Despite being seldom covered by the media and hardly recorded in our primary school textbooks, queer history has always been present. It’s a third eye on society’s head, seeing through the walls of white-washed history put up as a barrier from equality. It’s not just a reflection of a marginalized people, it’s an amalgamation of different races, cultures and identities.
It’s the epitome of intersectionality.
Officialized in 1994, the month-long celebration was chosen to be in October because it commemorated the National March On Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which took place Oct. 11th, 1987. Since National Coming Out Day was also initiated on Oct. 11th in 1988, it only made sense to make the month of October representative of this history.
However, the push for gay liberation in the U.S. started before this time, in a little bar called the Stonewall Inn in 1969.
In the ‘60s, the topic of different sexualities was taboo and few spaces for the LGBT community existed. Owned by the Genovese crime family, one of the Mafia families that dominated organized crime at the time, gay bars became homes to the community. However, constant arrests by local police discouraged the community from coming together. These arrests soon led to an unrest at Stonewall.
Famously called the “Stonewall Riots,” members of the community began fighting and rioting for their right to be openly gay after constant arrests by local police as it was literally illegal to be gay. It was a movement started by people of color who identified with the community — whether they were drag queens, transgender, homosexual, bisexual, etc. It was this intersectionality that pioneered a movement and truly represented the idea of the 1960s counterculture set by people who didn’t identify with the construct of “the norm,” which was heteronormative, white and conservative.
As someone who identifies as a queer person of color, it was this part of history that served as a catalyst for me to be an activist and advocate for the LGBT community.
After Stonewall came the gay liberation movement, a wave of radical action between the late 60s and the mid-80s that sparked social and political awareness of LGBT issues. Rooted in the feminist ideal that the personal is political — which underscores the connection between personal experiences and political structures — there was a domino effect of activism that caused progressions in how society viewed us and treated us.
Then came the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, which was originally perceived as an issue of only the gay-male community. Thought to be a disease that only affected men who had sex with men, there were years of activist research to prove that HIV was a sexually transmitted disease that affected all people, regardless of sexuality.
In Larry Kramer’s play, “The Normal Heart,” the AIDS crisis is explored through the perspective of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization, which began as a response to the epidemic itself, its mission to help all of those affected by HIV. This led to the inception of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an advocacy group that sought to bring legislation and health care to those affected. The play is a capstone to the representation of LGBT history because it depicted a series of real events that transpired in the 80s.
These were stepping stones to the milestones we’ve created in queer history. It’s led to the implementation of annual gay pride parades. It’s led to June being declared Pride Month. It’s led to the abolishment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy and it’s led to marriage equality.
In that same vein, my history doesn’t just revolve around the good we’ve done, but also around the tragedy that has afflicted us. We’re affected by injustice in our legal system, we’re victims of police brutality, we’re victims of abuse, we’re victims of phobias and we’re victims of terrorism. We’ve been through many of the same trials, tribulations and successes as many other movements and marginalized groups have,especially because our paths to equality often intersect.
LGBT History Month is important because we need to be reminded of where we come from, what we’ve accomplished and how far we, as a community, have to go. It’s a foundation to American history because we’re members of society and we deserve recognition. This month isn’t just about queer history, it’s about how much of this history affects you.
It’s about representing all of those who have made a difference in the community. It’s giving light to all the Larry Kramers, Harvey Milks, Bayard Rustins, Margaret Chos and RuPauls in the world.
My history matters because it is our history.