LGBTQIA+ HISTORY DEBUNKED
“Being gay is new,” “No one was gay when I was young,” these are things we have heard in recent years as the number of out and proud youth increases. While the people saying these things may think being part of the LGBTQ+ community is new, the wide spectrum of sexuality has been explored for thousands of years.
The oldest example of bi-erasure (the tendency to ignore bisexual experiences) is Alexander the Great. His partner, Hephaestion, was often labeled as a friend, and their romantic relationship was cast out as a rumor. However, this has been a widely researched topic and there is evidence to show that Alexander the Great was a bisexual man whose legacy was altered to fit the norm of the dominant rhetoric. Other examples of historical figures who have been “straight washed” include Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Much to the disservice of young people today, these giants in history and literature have had their stories marred, in order to perpetuate the idea that the “norm” is being straight.
STATE-SANCTIONED VIOLENCE AGAINST THE COMMUNITY
In the 1950s, the United States government contributed to a phenomenon called the “Lavender Scare.” Lavender is a color often associated with the gay community; it was a sadistic movement to eradicate all LGBTQ+ employees from the federal government. Similar to the concurrent Red Scare which sought to remove anyone with communist sympathies from office, the fear was that having gay employees would be like a virus in the office; that homosexuality would spread throughout. This led to many people being fired from their jobs, being publicly outed, humiliated, and even hurt or killed by people who used to be close to them. This movement spurred the LGBTQ+ community to remain closeted and hide.
However, the fear and tension of the LGBTQ+ community soon turned into resentment and frustration. In 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, was being plagued by police raids. At that time, being gay was almost criminal, which made police violence towards the community not uncommon. One night, a raid resulted in a riot after police violently arrested a lesbian woman named Storme DeLarvarie. DeLarvarie’s friends were outraged and fought back against the police. June 18th, 1969 became known as the Gay Liberation Day, leaving Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia DeRivera as the faces of the Stonewall Inn. These two trans women of color continued to fight for gay rights for the remainder of their lives.
Almost fifteen years later, in 1981, the AIDS Epidemic hit. HIV and AIDS were running rampant, and no one knew what the cause was, only that it appeared to be more prevalent in gay men. President Ronald Reagan referred to AIDS as “the gay plague” and used his right-wing religious platform to turn a blind eye to the epidemic. This dismissive attitude from an influential leader paved the way for further discrimination in healthcare and day-to-day life for the gay community. He left the CDC grossly underfunded for four years and did not even acknowledge the disease by its appropriate name until 1985. The lack of research in the early years left Americans to hypothesize how the disease was spread. There was a time when conservatives did not hesitate to wear a mask in the face of a public health crisis.
Reagan’s public acknowledgment of the epidemic only came about after a close friend had died from AIDS in ‘85. Reagan’s ignorance is responsible for a horrendous loss of life and homophobia.
THE UNITED STATES BEHIND THE TIMES
While some people claim that the United States is so ahead of its time and is “the greatest nation in the world,” it is necessary to add that the US did not allow same-sex marriage until 2015. This came after 21 nations legalized same-sex unions before the United States. Perhaps the US is not the shining beacon of hope and perfection it claims to be. Even with this progress in the United States, same-sex couples still face difficulty accessing life insurance benefits, adoption, and some even still have difficulty achieving financial equality. Many same-sex couples are regularly degraded by having their spouse referred to as their “sibling,” “friend,” or even “roommate.” These microaggressions contribute to feelings of invisibility in the community, despite the legal ability to be married.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Why is any of this information relevant to have? Well, most middle school and high school students do not learn any of this information, ever. As of 2019, only six states require teaching LGBTQ+ histories in public schools. Again, what’s the big deal? Representation is a big deal. It is vital that students hear the histories and stories of people they can identify with. Geena Davis once said, “If she can see it, she can be it.” Showing young people examples of people who look like them and share similar identities is the key ingredient to empowering young folks.
As young people, we are told to memorize every detail of historical figures like William Shakespeare and George Washington. Why not learn about historical figures with identities that more people actually resonate with. Queer people and queer people of color accomplished great things in times that were far less accepting than right now. The GLSEN survey shows that when students are taught with LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculums, students report feeling safer at school and more comfortable speaking about their sexuality with teachers and mentors. Home is not always a safe space to be your authentic self, but students spend a majority of their time at school with teachers and peers. School should be a safe space to learn about the rich and beautiful history of the queer community while being out and authentic.
TO LEARN MORE:
Join our panel discussion on LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education on Thursday, April 7th at 9AM PST / 12PM EST. Register at bit.ly/teachLGBTQeducation.