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Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month

October 28, 2017

Introduction

October is LGBTQ+ History Month in the U.S., coinciding with National Coming Out Day on October 11. While its June counterpart, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, revolves around the present, History Month looks back to see the progress members of the community and their allies made in the fight for civil rights. People who identify within the community are often erased from history due, in part, to the belief that describing a person as gay or transgender is too explicit for educational settings.  October is the time to bring to light the oppression LGBTQ+ people have faced and their fight for equality.

 

Ancient Greeks / Romans — 800 BC to 500 BC

Same-sex relationships between men were socially acceptable in civilizations like ancient Rome. Female-female relationships were more uncommon and often met with public disapproval, but Sappho, a Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, wrote love poems to women. Both her and her work have become symbolic of love between women — the word “lesbian” comes from Lesbos.

 

The Holocaust — 1933 to 1945

Gay men were among many groups persecuted by the Nazis, who believed homosexuality could be cured.  Prisoners were marked with downward-pointing pink triangles and were one of the most abused groups in the concentration camps. Over time, the pink triangle has been flipped to point upward and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, second in popularity only to the rainbow flag.

 

Lavender Scare — 1950s

While the Red Scare that occurred simultaneously involved the persecution of suspected Communists, the Lavender Scare targeted gay people and fired them from their federal jobs. Joseph McCarthy, who influenced anti-Communist sentiment, linked Communism and being gay. Consequently, many viewed gay people as they did Communists: people who were morally weak and possessed murky pasts.

 

Stonewall Riots — 1969

In what is often considered the event that sparked gay rights activism, LGBTQ+ community members took their first unified stand against New York police after they raided a bar at Stonewall Inn. At the time, LGBTQ+ Americans were seen as criminals by the public, and during the 1960s, New York City supported a gender dress statute that allowed police to arrest people who wore clothing that wasn’t indicative of their biological gender. Some of the uprising’s prominent figures included drag queens Marsha P. Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera, frequent patrons at Stonewall.

 

Beginning of the AIDS epidemic — 1981

The AIDS epidemic disproportionately affected members of the LGBTQ+ community due mainly to practice of unsafe sex. Within the first year of the epidemic beginning, members of the LGBTQ+ community comprised 71% of the 3,064 reported cases. AIDS also used to be called GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency, perpetuating the stereotype that continues today that AIDS is a gay-related disease. Members of the LGBTQ+ community honor those who have passed by hand-stitching quilt panels for the AIDS memorial quilt that travels around the nation. Currently, part of it resides in San Francisco and will be there until December 5.

 

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — 1994

Passed during the Clinton administration, this policy prevented discrimination against closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community in the army. In the context of its time it was considered progressive, but it forced many gay people to keep their identity secret or run the risk of being discharged. However, in 2011 it was repealed because it was considered too conservative.

 

Proposition 8 — 2008

Voters approved a ballot proposition to make same-sex marriage illegal in California in November 2008. Protests erupted and lawsuits were made against the legislature, and the initiative was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry in August 2010.

Art teacher Kalia DeMarquez was engaged to her partner when Proposition 8 passed, banning legal recognition of gay marriage in California.

“It was really heartbreaking, “ DeMarquez said. “What my future was going to look like got snatched away from me when that passed. I went out to rallies, I protested, I did everything I knew I could do to try and fight it.”

Even though California often takes liberal stances, its opposition to gay marriage left many gay residents heartbroken. History teacher Sarah Carlson also took to activism after the proposition passed.

“At the time, it felt like someone had died,” Carlson said. “It was like your state voted to take away your rights. I was president of the Student Coalition for Marriage Equality, and we did a lot of letter writing campaigns. We did demonstrations where we would have couples come in and show what a gay marriage looked like, and [that] really it’s not that scary.”

To marry her now-wife, P.E. teacher Kiernan Raffo went to Boston, where gay marriage was legal.

“I would’ve liked to get married in Tahoe but you know, it was what it was at the time,” Raffo said. “But looking back, it seems crazy that we even had to do that, and that was only 2011.”

 

Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in U.S. — 2015

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States in a 5-4 vote. In response, supporters cheered and waved rainbow flags to celebrate America becoming the 21st country to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide. President Obama also personally congratulated Jim Obergefell, the case’s main plaintiff, and all LGBTQ+ Americans on their victory.

 

The Pulse Orlando shooting — June 12, 2016

Omar Mateen killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in one of the worst massacres in American history. Nearly 90 percent of his victims had been Hispanics celebrating the club’s Latin night, proving this to be not only an act against the LGBTQ+ community but also a crime against Latinos. After holding several people hostage, the gunman emerged from the club and was eventually taken down by police.

 

Conclusion

The struggle for LGBTQ+ equality is certainly not new — gay rights have been a part of history since the time of the ancient Greeks and other early human societies. Activism in recent years has undeniably progressed the global gay rights movement, but even so, there continues to be opposition against the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

“You’re never done fighting,” DeMarquez said. “In the Bay Area, we are very open and accepting, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t underlying issues and things to fight for…[To] anyone in the community who feels like they don’t have an outlet for themselves—  there’s people around that are there for [you and] there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to being yourself.”

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