LGBTQ History Month: Looking Back and Moving Forward
- By JJ
The month of October has been designated as LGBTQ Month, a month long celebration and remembrance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (and more!) history. As October comes to a close, it’s important to remember how far we have come, and what else we need to do.
A Brief History
The origin of LGBTQ Month, or Gay History Month as it was first called, is credited to Rodney Wilson, a high school history teacher in Wisconsin, in 1994. Wilson grew up conservative Christian, and he struggled with his sexuality for a while. Learning about LGBTQ history helped him gain self-confidence in his sexual identity. When teaching his students about the Holocaust, he informed them that, as a gay man, he would most likely have been imprisoned and murdered if he had lived in Germany. He became the first openly gay K-12 teacher in the state.
The month of October was chosen to be LGBTQ Month because schools are in session, meaning that there is a chance to educate schools and students about LGBTQ History. This is also the month when the first national march for Lesbian and Gay Rights occurred in 1979, and it is the month in which National Coming Out Day is held.
While Pride Month (June) is meant to celebrate visibility, LGBTQ History Month is, as the name suggests, a month to learn about the history and historical figures (and their contributions to the world).
How far have we come?
For starters, LGBTQ History Month has been declared a national history month by President Barack Obama in 2009. This means it is national recognized, which can help in not only educating our community but other communities as well. While it’s impossible to list all of the amazing historical feats members of the LGBTQ community have accomplished, here are some milestones:
- 1924 (less than a hundred years ago!): The first documented gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, is founded in Chicago.
- 1950: One of the first sustained gay groups in the United States, the Mattachine Society, is formed.
- April 1952: The American Psychiatric Association adds homosexuality to the diagnostic list as a sociopathic personality disturbance.
- April 1953: President Eisenhower signs an executive order, banning homosexuals from working for the federal government, as they are a perceived security risk.
- September 1955: The first known lesbian rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, is formed in San Francisco.
- July 1961: Illinois decriminalizes homosexuality (and is the first state to do so) by repealing sodomy laws.
- June 1969: Stonewall Riots begin after police raid the Stonewall Inn.
- June 1970: The first pride parade occurs, honoring the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
- 1973: The first legal organization to fight for gay and lesbian rights, Lambda Legal, is established. When denied from registering as a non-profit, they brought their case before the Supreme Court (and won!).
- January 1973: Maryland is the first state to ban same-sex marriage
- December 1973 (after 21 years): The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from the list of mental disorders.
- 1974: Kathy Kozachenko wins a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council and becomes the first openly LGBTQ American elected to any public office.
- 1974: Elaine Noble becomes the first openly gay candidate elected to a state office (elected to Massachusetts State Legislature).
- January 1975: The first federal gay rights bill is introduced, but it is never brought for consideration.
- January 1978: Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay man elected to a political office in California.
- 1978: Gilbert Baker designs the first rainbow flag.
- October 1978: the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights draws an estimated 75,000 to 125,000 individuals.
- March 1982 (less than 30 years ago): Washington becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- November 1993: President Clinton signs the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
- September 1996: President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
- December 1996: In a state court ruling, Hawaii judge declares the state has no right to deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry. This makes Hawaii the first state to recognize same-sex couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples.
- June 2003: The US Supreme Court strikes down the “homosexual conduct” law, which decriminalizes same-sex sexual conduct.
- May 2004: The first legal same sex marriage in the US takes place in Massachusetts.
- September 2005: California becomes the first state to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage.
- October 2005: New Jersey courts determine that state lawmakers must give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.
- September 2011: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.
- June 2016: The Pentagon announces it will lift the ban on transgender people serving openly in the US military.
- June 2017: The Pentagon announces it will further consider lifting the ban on transgender people enlisting in the military. About a month later, Trump (via tweet, of course) announces transgender people are not allowed in the military
- February 2018: The Pentagon confirms that the first transgender person has signed to join the US military
- March 2018: Trump announces a new policy that bans most transgender people from serving in the military
- June 2020: The Supreme Court rules that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination.
- January 2021: Biden repeals Trump’s policy against transgender people serving in the US military
- June 2021: The State Department announces it will update its procedures to allow applicants to self-select their sex marker for passports without requiring medical certification.
In less than a hundred years, from when the first documented gay rights groups appeared to today, there have been numerous gains (and setbacks) to the LGBTQ movement. While this list isn’t the whole story, it points out a lot of important messages for us all to remember. First, even after numerous setbacks (being called mentally ill by an esteemed psychiatric organization, being discriminated against via federal laws and policies, etc.), the activists in the LGBTQ movement pushed back. Laws were forced to repeal themselves. Policies were forced to change. Many of these struggles took years or decades to accomplish, but they were overcome. Even today, when it sometimes feels like we are fighting an uphill battle, looking back on history can help give us perspective. It must have seemed impossible for many LGBTQ individuals in the past to get the right to marry, or the right to openly serve in the military, or serve in public office. But it happened because we came together, united for a cause, and we fought.
Another important message I received from researching thing was jarring: I didn’t know that much about LGBTQ history. Like many other historical events and people who weren’t cis/white/straight/male, this was never really taught in schools or shown in public spaces where I could have absorbed these dates and people. This needs to change. Education is a key part of creating change, especially seeing how so many of these policies and trends are recent (everything on this list is less than a hundred years old). Some people who were diagnosed with mental illness for identifying as gay are probably still alive and dealing with that trauma today. Older generations saw the consequences of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots.
If history is meant to teach us anything, it’s here to remind us of the struggles we have overcome, the struggles that may happen again, and connect us to the past. It’s a reminder of those who fought for the rights we have today, to remind us how new these things are, and how easily they could be taken away. And it shows us how far we have to go. As we end this year’s LGBTQ History Month, we can’t help but wonder how next year’s LGBTQ History Month will be celebrated. Will we be adding more accomplishments to the timeline, or more setbacks? How will we contribute to the history and the rights of the LGBTQ community, in the past, present, and future?