The first entry!!!!
I’ve been juggling so many ideas on what my very first entry here would be. Indecisiveness is one of my key personality traits. So, I’ve decided that I’m going to do all of my ideas but just one at a time (I know genius). This week I am going to talk about something that has become a small passion of mine in the last year. The topic I am speaking of is LGBTQ history! Buckle up because this is going to be a long one but completely worth it. You will most definitely learn something and hopefully be inspired!
You probably have heard in the last few months that a few states across the country have implemented laws that require public schools to include LGBTQ history in their curriculum. There are actually only four states in the country currently that teach it or eventually will; New Jersey, Illinois, California, and Colorado. California was a trailblazer having had their law in place since 2011. New Jersey, Colorado, and Illinois followed suit this year. News like this proves that this country is moving in a new and more accepting direction. To teach about the contributions of queer people throughout American history is to teach American history in its entirety and show that queer people have always existed, we have always contributed to society, and continue to do so. Laws like these promote more than tolerance (because I don’t think tolerance equates to acceptance), they promote the acceptance of queer people in our society and in our personal daily lives. Through knowledge can come understanding.
Whether they have lived openly or not, throughout American history, queer people have been writers, artists, elected officials, activists, mathematicians, musicians, designers, philosophers, and just about anything else you can think of. To negate them when teaching our history is not only unfair but a disservice to students who are in school to learn. Not to mention it fuels the flames of ignorance and prejudice. Some would say it’s an issue of morality to learn about such people, but I would say it is more an issue of personal bigotry and prejudice (and that’s that on that). In light of this and since queer history was never fully integrated into my learning as a young student, I decided to go on my own journey of exploration and learning and discovered some incredible things worth noting. Full circles have been made, many heart strings pulled, and many wigs snatched!
The first two pieces of literature and eye-opening queer history wells of knowledge I stumbled upon were the books A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronsky and Making Gay History by Eric Marcus (if you click on either titles it will lead you to where you can purchase the books). A Queer History of the United States chronicles the history and presence of queer people starting with the native Americans and the European settlers and into the present which at the time of publication was 2012. You learn about the history of gender identity and gender expression within Native American tribes and that it was the
European Christian settlers who brought the plight that is the gender binary (SHOCKING). I actually wasn’t shocked to find that out but definitely gave a sigh of exasperation while reading it.
Something I didn’t expect to get out of this book was the origins of certain words like “Homosexual” and “Lesbian”. I discovered that a man named Karl Maria Kertbeny coined the term “homosexual” in 1868. Before then the only real word to describe gay men was “sodomite” and the practice of homosexuality, “sodomy”. There’s even a whole story about the origin of the word “lesbian” which is embedded in Greek mythology. Pretty wild! Fun fact: the word “sapphist” was used to describe women attracted to other women (so there’s a word predating lesbian) and the practice of lesbianism or being a “sapphist” was called “sapphism”. Are you shook yet?! As you go through this book a countless list of names, events, and literature pops out at you and I found myself writing down an extremely long list of queer literature. If you’d like to see the reading list I’ve been developing and do some reading of your own let me know and I'd be happy to share my list with you! Point is, this book is amazing and powerful because it’s a testament to the presence of queer people throughout history and only supports the reason why queer people should be in our history books.
I could go on and on about this book, but it wouldn’t leave me much time
to talk about the NEXT book I discovered which is Making Gay History. This book was written by Eric Marcus and covers the gay liberation movement from its early days in the 1950s all the way through to when the book was published in 2001. The special thing about this book is that it doesn’t read like a history book like A Queer History of the United States. It consists of actual transcribed interviews of people who were physically there and involved in the movement. Marcus conducts countless audio interviews with various gay and lesbian activists, artists, politicians, TV personalities and so on and weaves them into a story about the gay liberation movement and its development. You meet the founder of the Mattachine Society (one of the first documented gay rights groups ever) Chuck Rowland who formed the group in 1950. You meet Martha Shelley, one of the organizers of the first gay pride parade in 1969 a month after the Stonewall Riots. You even get to read Ellen DeGeneres talk about her coming out story in the mid 90s on her coming out episode for her famed sitcom, Ellen. There are even interviews in this book with Al Gore!
What’s important to understand about this book is that it shows the presence of queer people of color. It’s so easy to think that this movement only consisted of white, college educated, middle class people, but there were people
of color heavily involved in this movement who you don’t hear about. The influence of people of color in this movement cannot be ignored considering the fact that the civil rights movement influenced how so many of these leaders in the gay liberation movement went about fighting for their rights. As a gay man of color, it inspires me to want to speak up and tell our stories and make our presence known. Aside from reading the book, I would also recommend that you listen to the podcast that is based off the book. It is also called Making Gay History and consists of the actual audio interviews Marcus did for this book. Each episode is a different person and it is amazing to hear it from their mouths as it happened. The podcast is found on Spotify, Apple Music, and pretty much any other source for podcasts, so it’s easy to find. Listen, listen, LISTEN!
This book debunks the myth that the gay rights movement started with Stonewall and proves that there were things happening and people fighting and protesting for queer rights long before that first brick was thrown on June 28th, 1969. By reading this book it has put so many things into perspective things like
how and why things like racism and misogyny plague the community, how our understanding of gender identity and human sexuality has changed (there’s an interview with the women who studied gay men and proved it wasn’t an illness), and how one movement branched out into two it almost feels like. There was the grassroots movement being fought on the streets with protesting, picketing, and zaps (click to find out what that is) and a whole other movement being fought on the political side in Washington and in government buildings across the country. Queer people didn’t just want to be visible, respected, and treated equally by their peers, they wanted to be recognized and treated equally under the law. These things go hand in hand and our paramount to the overall struggle of queer liberation.
The movement of yesteryear lacked intersectionality but a shift has occurred over time. We have a long way to go but a solid foundation has been formed to continuously build on. If one of us isn’t free none of us are, am I right? Point blank, this is why queer history should be included in curriculums across the country! It won’t solve all our problems right away but it will most definitely help!
I urge whoever is reading this to seek out the knowledge and educate yourself because the more people who understand the better an ally you can become to the queer people in your lives. I've been lucky enough to have parents and a family who are knowledge seekers and are open and growing up that shaped me in the best possible way to know my rights as a human being, a black man, AND a gay black man. I've already hounded my mom into reading some of these books and she's doing it! We're going to have conversations about it and that's important because how else do people learn and understand each other? Parents, if you have a LGBTQ child learn about all these things. It may help you help them. All my queer people out there, learn all of this so you know where we've come from and then in turn shape where we're going. It's a conscious effort that should be made by all humans.
Okay! I've hounded y'all enough. GO READ!
P.S These books are also audio books SO NO EXCUSES!