Celebrating LGBTQ History Month
with MissHeard Media
In honor of LGBTQ History Month, I wanted to highlight a few trail-blazing LGBTQ and gender non-conforming icons. Too often in school, we do not learn much- if anything- about marginalized groups, including LGBTQ people. In truth, there have always been LGBTQ people, and therefore, LGBTQ people have always been important historical figures.
LGBTQ persons have faced many obstacles in US history. In 1952, the APA considered homosexuality a “sociopathic personality disorder.” In 1953, President Eisenhower signed an Executive Order banning gay men and women from working in the federal government. In 1973, Maryland banned same-sex marriage. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay men elected to office in CA was murdered in 1978. As recently as 1993, the US military promotes the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, that prohibits openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military. Shortly after, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2018, The Trump administration announced a policy banning transgender people from serving in the military. At the time of this writing, at least 20 transgender people have been murder just for being themselves, the youngest is 17 year old Bailey Reeves, of Baltimore.
The story of LGBTQ Americans is also one of survivial, resilience and persistence. The Society for Human Rights, founded in 1924, is the first documented gay rights organization. In 1950, the Mattachine Society formed, and is one of the longest lasting gay rights groups. The first lesbian rights group, Daughters of Bilitis, formed five years later. The Advocate, started in 1967, is the oldest continuing LGBT publication. The first gay pride parade took place in 1970, one year after the raids and uprising at the Stonewall Inn. In 1973, Lambda Legal formed, dedicated to fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people, and so did PFLAG. The APA removed homosexuality from its list of “mental disorders.” The following year, Kathy Kozachenko is the first openly gay American to elected to any public office in her town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1978, Gilbert Baker designed and created the first rainbow pride flag. The following year, 75,000+ individuals marched on Washington for lesbian and gay rights.
By 1995, hate crime legislation went into effect, and included gender and sexual orientation as protected categories. The following year, Hawaii became the first state to recognize same-sex marriages. In 2004, the first legal same-sex marriage took place in Massachusetts. By 2011, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, allowing openly LGBT people to serve. In 2012, the Democrats add “gay rights” to their party platform. Just three years ago, in 2016, Obama announces the designation of the first monument to LGBT rights, the Stonewall National Monument. In 2017, DC residents can choose “X” as their gender on their IDs. By 2019, Montgomery County, MD students can as well. Also in 2019, New York bans the “gay panic” legal defense and Billy Porter is the first openly gay black man to win the Emmy for best lead actor.
By learning about LGBTQ folks, and others who are traditionally left out of the history books, we get a more complete, complex, picture of our history and culture. What I’m offering here is a small glimpse at the contributions LGBTQ folks have made to our history.
We’wha was born in 1849 as a member of Zuni nation. We’wha was Lhamana. Today, We’wha might be described as two-spirit or mixed gender. We’wha wore clothing and took on roles traditional to both men and women. We’wha befriended American anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson, which led to most of the English writing on the Zuni people.
In 1886, We’wha served in a Zuni delegation to US President Grover Cleveland, and was received as a Zuni princess. After their visit, conflicts broke out between the Zuni and Americans, resulting in We’wha’s arrest.
We’wha was an accomplished artist, potter, and weaver whose art was displayed at the National Museum.
Christine Jorgensen was born in 1926 in the Bronx, New York. She was the first visible person to undergo gender confirmation surgery. After her surgery in Denmark, her story featured in the New York Daily News, giving her a platform to advocate for the rights of transgender people. Her book, Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography sold 450,000 copes. Jorgensen influenced other trans people to change their names and sex on their birth certificates. She challenged the binary notions of “sex” and “gender.”
Kathy Kozachenko is the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to be elected to any political office in the US. She ran as a member of the Human Rights Party in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kozachenko won her seat by 52 votes.
In 2013, Tammy Baldwin, a democrat from Wisconsin, is elected to the Senate. She is the first openly lesbian Senator to serve. She is still in office. Also in 2013, Jazz Jennings co-wrote a children’s book, I am Jazz, about her life as a transgender child.
MTV’s True Life aired an episode about being genderqueer, showing many people that gender is not binary and how to use the singular they pronoun.
Danica Roem, heavy metal fan and journalist, is the first openly transgender person elected to the VA Assembly, and the first US state legislator that is openly transgender. As a first-time candidate in 2017, she defeated a 13-term incumbent who called himself a “chief homophobe” and sponsored VA’s bathroom bill. She outraised her opponent 5 to 1.
The 116th Congress includes Krysten Sinema, the first openly bisezual Senator, Angie Craig, the first same-sex mother in Congress and Sharice Davids, the first openly gay woman of color in Congress. Other LGB members of the 116th Congress include Chris Pappas, Katie Hill, Mark Takano, Mark Pocan, Sean Maloney, David Cicilline, and Jared Polis. The T was left out on purpose- there has never been an openly transgender member of Congress.
Just this year, Ella Briggs, 11, was sworn in as Connecticut’s first openly gay kid governor. She was elected by 6,400 fifth graders across the state schools. Briggs was bullied and targeted by fellow students, and even parents and teachers. But, she has the support of her friends and family. Ella plans to be the “first lesbian president.”
May Tuscano, a licensed marriage and family therapist who does trainings in schools for staff and teachers on LGBTQ issues, said she thought: “This is it. This is the world we’ve been fighting for all these years. What an incredible marker of progress.” Tuscano and other experts say they don’t believe the numbers of children who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer is any larger than it was years ago, but just that identifying this way has been de-stigmatized. “Now kids can verbalize what’s there,” said Tuscano, and parents are more likely to listen.
Jamie Margolin, one of the founders of the Zero Hour climate movement, is openly lesbian, and fighting to save the world from climate disaster. Fellow Earth activist, #NoDAPL protester, and water protector Jasilyn Charger is openly bisexual. In an interview with Bitch media, Jasilyn said:
I am bringing back my culture. I am bringing back our sacredness as well. Even in our own culture, we are shunned, even though it was a part of our culture before the colonists came. When the colonists came, the first people they took out of our camps were the two-spirited because they were abominations.
This is not even a FRACTION of change-making, badass LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people who have fought for their rights. This is just a small, small sample of people worth highlighting. There are dozens and dozens of others who have made waves, changed the way we as a whole think of sex, gender, and sexuality, and persisted in the face of oppression and resistance. That means there’s room for you too. No matter how you identify, who you love, or what you choose to wear, I’ve got your back and believe that you have the power to be your true self, make change, and make history.