LGBT History Month has its own story.
The idea originated in 1994 from Missouri High School openly gay history professor Rodney Wilson. He chose October for its importance to the community, as National Coming Out Day is October 11, and March 1 and 2 in Washington for equal rights and other political and social issues were held in October 1979 and 1987, respectively. In addition to these reasons, the choice of the month has a practical significance: it is part of the academic year.
For years, the month has been observed piecemeal from group to group, locality to locality, state to state.
That changed in 2006, when The Equality Forum, which describes itself as a national and international LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus, took the reins of creating a central website, lgbthistorymonth.com. The Equality Forum had recently completed a document with PBS titled “Gay Pioneers” around the same time.
“We were already interested in what was first called ‘the history of homosexuals’, and we decided that no one was doing it,” said Malcom Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum.
Pride Month in June, as well as the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that led to it, is widely known to the public, at least in a general sense. Democratic presidents, starting with Bill Clinton in 1999 and continuing with Barrack Obama and current President Joe Biden, have formalized the designation at the federal level each year.
Compared to pride, LGBTQ + History Month has a lower profile.
Lazin explained how he perceives the difference between Pride and History Month, and why they aren’t all in one.
“Pride month started around the idea of self-esteem,” he said. “It’s obviously more festive; there are parades and celebrations. LGBTQ + History Month provides good reason to be proud. It gives us role models and gives us a sense of our history and impact. “
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The group’s centerpiece in celebrating the month is their online “Icons” series. The organization solicits nominations on its website and creates a list of 31 people to nominate each day in October. The choices are accompanied by a photo of the person, a brief biography explaining their accomplishments, as well as links to other educational resources.
The 495 biographies created over the past 16 years are available on the site. Lazin explained that each is tagged with multiple search tags to make it easier for educators and others to find information in specific areas.
“If a coach wants to find athletes on the site, those numbers would be labeled with ‘sports’,” he said. “An English teacher might look for poets and writers to highlight. You can find it all here.
Despite these nearly 500 entries, the sustainability of the project had its first skeptics.
“The first year the list was impressive, but we got pushed back,” Lazin said. “The second year became as impressive as the first, and it continued until the 16th year. “
The icons are listed in alphabetical order.
“We are doing this so that those who appear in the early days are not seen as the highest priority,” he said.
This year’s icons include people like Liberace, who few would be surprised to see on the list. Others are well known, but their personal lives have been obscured.
The biography of composer Frédéric Chopin, entry October 4, shows how the story can be manipulated with a few tweaks.
According to the entry, “Music journalist Moritz Weber found historical evidence that many of Chopin’s letters had been intentionally mistranslated, swapping the pronouns of his male lovers for female pronouns.”
Pride of Plymouth
Plymouth Pride President Nicole O’Brien said people don’t have to look any further than Plymouth itself to see proof that history is often one-sided.
“Personally, I think it’s important to tell the truth about any part of the story,” she said, noting that the pilgrim story and the story of the first Thanksgiving have been handed over. in question and, in some details, demystified, thanks to ongoing critical research.
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“They can’t even get away with it,” she said of people refusing to view history established in a new way.
Plymouth Pride was founded just a few years ago after its members joined the city’s 4th of July parade and won first place in the ‘community’ category. The group has since hosted a pride festival following the lifting of COVID restrictions last June, and they continue to hold monthly events and work collaboratively with other groups in the city.
O’Brien sees a link in both principle and purpose between the Equality Forum site and Plymouth Pride’s presence in town.
“Visibility is the key,” she said. “We want to try to make people understand that gay people are just normal.”
While she has reservations about whether the LGBTQ + program will take full root in Plymouth, she noted that the benefit of working towards this goal goes far beyond mere academic pursuits.
“Teaching LGBTQ + history would save lives. Children in the LGBTQ + community have the highest suicide rates, ”she said. “To have taught it in schools would be amazing. It would have saved my life, and it would be for the kids now. As for History Month, we still have a long way to go here, ”she said.
Plymouth School Superintendent Christopher Campbell did not respond to an email request for information about the, if any, LGBTQ + program being taught in public schools.
O’Brien’s cynicism is a reflection of what she sees in town. The rainbow crosswalk he worked to create on Water Street with help from the city’s Select Board has been the subject of repeat – and what he believes is deliberate – tire burns crossing it, and LGBTQ + youth from Plymouth must travel to Duxbury for SSHAGLY (Sud Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Youth).
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“It’s not a safe area for children here,” she said. “Children feel it. That’s why they’re leaving. You cannot force children to be what they are not.
Lazin built on this.
“It is always worth noting that we are the only minority in the world whose history is not taught at home, in school or in religious institutions,” he said.
Going back to the lists, he said that no matter how controversial a choice might be, each person’s biography comes under scrutiny.
“In a way, I’m surprised how little criticism we end up getting,” he said. “But if anyone is going to complain, read the bio. When requests are made, we are able to demonstrate the basis for including a person as a member of the LGBTQ + community.
Along with historical figures like Chopin and poet WH Auden, this year’s list includes current figures such as Mary Trump, a niece and critic of her uncle, former President Donald Trump. An important difference between historical figures and modern figures, Lazin said, is that current choices must be open. And with more and more people from various fields and backgrounds identifying themselves openly as LGBTQ +, from former presidential candidate and current US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to rapper Lil Nas X, there is hope for the very children who worry O’Brien most. Add to that the emergence of people like singer Demi Lovato, who recently announced that she identifies as a non-binary genre, and the future of LGBTQ + History Month is almost assured.
“There is no doubt that in the future icons are sure to be taken into account,” Lazin said.
LGBT History Month is observed in all 50 states, as well as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Brazil, although the designated month varies in several of these countries. Some states, such as California, have announced their active support for incorporating LGBTQ + history into the regular school curriculum.
“It gives us and other communities the power to understand where we have been and where we are,” Lazin continued. “It encourages people to stand on the shoulders (of icons) to achieve ultimate equality. “
To see the list of past and present icons, visit Lgbthistory.com. To learn more about Plymouth Pride, visit Plymouthprideinc.com.
Multimedia reporter David R. Smith can be reached at [email protected]