Thank God for LGBTQ Folk, part 1

Today we’re going to look at LGBTQ History Month, how it began and its purpose, and we’ll name the 31 LGBTQ folk whose contributions are particularly being recognized for the 2021 LGBTQ History Month. Then we’ll turn to the deeper matter of queerness itself has changed history and changed all of us. I believe that we are here to love. So how we express love – with whom, when, and how – are central to who we are. Through history, LGBTQ folks have revealed to all of us truths about what love is – and therefore truths about what it means to be a human being.

There’s a lot to be said about the ways Western Society became so persecution-oriented, about the horrible ways same-gender sexual contact has been suppressed, repressed, shamed, stigmatized, and severely punished – and about why persecuting people who engaged in that behavior -- seemed so important for so many centuries. I acknowledge that. Today, however, we’ll be looking at the changing nature of affectional relationships – which might or might not have included sexual contact. A couple centuries ago, friendships could be passionate, even romantic, even maybe include a certain erotic quality, and not involve or desire sexual contact. We’ll see how that changed – and how the phenomena of film and TV called the bromance signals yet another new shift. It’s a story about a growth of freedom, a growth of our humanity, and it’s one for which all of us can be thankful for the queer folk that have been among us and are the crucial drivers of that story.

To begin: October is LGBTQ History month. June is LGBTQ Pride month. History, as we all know, is not the same thing as pride – and it’s good to have and honor both. Pride month was inspired by the Stonewall Uprising in June of 1969, 52 years ago. It’s for recognizing the contributions LGBTQ folk have had on local, national, and international society.

LGBTQ History month is a little bit newer. The first march on Washington for LGBTQ rights was October 11, 1979. Nine years after that, in 1988, the anniversary of that march began being recognized as National Coming Out Day, every October 11. National Coming Out Day expresses the recognition that homophobia depends on ignorance and ignorance depends on silence. So it was a day for coming out – for breaking silence – for letting family or friends, who might not know it, that they do, in fact, have loved ones who are lesbian or gay – or, as began being stressed a bit later, are transgender, bisexual, or some form of queer. If more people know more people identified as LGBTQ, then oppressive attitudes toward LGBTQ will wane.

National Coming Out Day is grounded in the perception that the personal is political, and the most basic form of activism is coming out to family, friends and colleagues, and living life as openly LGBTQ. It’s important to keep in mind that coming out isn’t always safe. Our job, I believe, whether we are ourselves LGBTQ or not, is to be supportive of those who do come out – and of those who see the danger as just too great.

Six years after the beginning of National Coming Out Day, in 1994, a Missouri History teacher named Rodney Wilson founded LGBTQ History Month. It’s in October so it can include National Coming Out Day. Since it began, other October events have arisen that fold into LGBTQ History month.

Ally week. In October 2005, a national youth-led effort encouraged students to be allies with the LGBTQ folk in their community in standing against bullying, harassment and name-calling. That was called Ally week, and it is usually observed in September or October, taking place in K-12 schools and colleges and often, but not always, coinciding with National Coming Out Day. During Ally Week people are encouraged to sign an ally pledge "taking a stand for a safe and harassment-free school for all students", that they will not use anti-LGBTQ slurs, and will intervene to stop bullying and harassment. Ally Week lets our LGBTQ friends know that peer support for them is stronger than they might think.

Then in 2010, Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan started Spirit Day on the third Thursday in October – it was October 21 this year. Spirit day was created in response to bullying-related suicides of gay school students in 2010. Observers of the day wear the color purple as a visible sign of support for LGBTQ youth and against bullying.

Also in October – on October 12 – is the anniversary of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard.

All of that is folded into LGBTQ History Month. If you didn’t know, now you know. We have this month to highlight and celebrate the history and achievements of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and any form of queer.

Equality Forum – an LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus -- coordinates LGBT History Month and produces documentary films. For LGBTQ History Month each year Equality Forum selects 31 historically significant people. In the spirit of “say their name,” here are the 2021 LGBT history month icons:
Susan B. Anthony
W.H. Auden
Frank Bruni
Frédéric Chopin
David Cicilline
Mart Crowley
Ashley Diamond
Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Carlos Elizondo
Althea Garrison
R.C. Gorman
LZ Granderson
Bob Hattoy
Jerry Herman
Janis Ian
Karine Jean-Pierre
Janis Joplin
Claude McKay
Stacey Milbern
Shannon Minter
Janelle Monáe
Javier Morgado
Henry Muñoz III
Johnnie Phelps
Little Richard
Swe Zin Htet
| Mark Takano
Ritchie Torres
Mary Trump
Darren Walker
The contributions of LGBTQ people need to be honored.

I want to think about the history beyond the famous contributors to society. The thousands of queer folk who never got famous, whose names will never be intoned beyond immediate family. Just by being who they were, they shifted and enriched our understanding of the possibilities of being human.

Attitudes about relationships and about sex have undergone profound change in the last couple hundred years in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democracies) society. We’ll look into that in part 2.

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