In the narrative of our shared history, the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) folks often go untold. Celebrated in October in the US and February in the UK, LGBT+ History Month celebrates a deeper appreciation of the LGBT+ community and its varied history.
Primarily, it's all about showcasing the movers and shakers within the LGBT community. Think role models, those inspiring individuals who cultivate a sense of belonging for others who identify similarly. LGBT History Month pays homage to the countless contributions of LGBT individuals to every facet of society.
Read on to learn more about its background and how to get involved.
Featured in: October - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.
LGBT+ History Month Beginnings and Background
In 1994, the United States saw the birth of LGBT History Month. The man who sparked it into existence was Rodney Wilson, the first openly gay Missouri high school teacher.
The idea was to have a month devoted to understanding and celebrating gay and lesbian history. Wilson shared his vision with other educators and community leaders who agreed to stand with him in advocating for this cause.
Why October? It was chosen to honor LGBT History Month because it coincides with the annual celebration of National Coming Out Day on the 11th.
There's another historical connection, too. October takes us back to the first-ever march by the LGBT community in Washington in 1979. From the outset, LGBT History Month received backing from national organizations. These included GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, National Education Association, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
In 2006, Equality Forum took on the responsibility of promoting LGBT History Month and signposting content and resources.
Growing Recognition and International Observances
As the years rolled on, the celebration only grew in significance. A big step forward came in 2010 when the U.S. Department of Education formally recognized LGBT History Month. This event underlined the movement's crucial role in education.
But a watershed moment occurred in 2016. That year, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History included LGBT History Month. This recognition was a bold declaration of the event's value in charting the course of America's story.
The specific month designated to acknowledge and celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month differs depending on the country. The United States, Canada, and Australia commemorate these historical milestones in October. While it’s in February when the United Kingdom and Hungary do so. On its part, Berlin opts for a June celebration, which is recognized as Queer History Month.
The Cause and Its Challenges
Unraveling the deeper purpose of LGBT History Month, we find ourselves at a crossroads. One path leads to celebration - recognizing how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have helped mold our societies. The other path speaks to the persisting inequalities and obstacles that these communities still navigate.
Alongside the vibrant parades and success stories, the crux of this cause remains the drive for inclusivity and empathy.
The LGBT community still faces many hurdles, with discrimination often casting a long shadow. This pervasive adversary takes many guises and contexts. A quick peek into the National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021 and the issue becomes clear as day: 42% of LGBTQ youth had seriously contemplated suicide in the previous year1. The sobering statistic stands against a backdrop of social exclusion, violence, and legal discrimination.
Meanwhile, the Williams Institute uncovered that nearly 43% of gay and transgender employees have endured workplace discrimination. In healthcare - a right we all deserve; the Center for American Progress reports that around 29% of transgender people and 21% of LGB persons have been refused by healthcare providers.
These realities coupled with an urgent need for better representation. Furthermore they unmask the complex layers of the cause that LGBT History Month staunchly advocates.
Related Read: Equality and Diversity Quotes.
5 Reasons LGBT+ History Month Matters
- Despite numerous strides forward, the struggle for LGBT equality is far from over. Alarmingly, numerous parts of the globe still criminalize homosexuality. Punishments range from imprisonment to torture and, in extreme cases, death.
- The path to marriage equality has been a long and arduous journey in the United States. It took until 2015 for same-sex marriages to be recognized and sanctioned nationwide, showing that even in the so-called 'land of the free,' acceptance was not easily won.
- Mental health issues are disproportionately prevalent within the LGBT community. The adversity often faced by individuals due to societal discrimination, stigma, and lack of acceptance has resulted in worryingly high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, particularly among LGBT youth.
- The silver lining amidst these grim realities is the significant progress in the representation of LGBT individuals. This representation, visible in the media, politics, and other societal sectors, fosters broader understanding and acceptance, ultimately working towards a more egalitarian society.
Notable Events Celebrated Each LGBT+ History Month
There are many people and moments throughout the history of LGBT+ movements and the fight for lesbian and gay rights. Below is a brief snapshot of some of the historical events and milestones.
In 1969, the Stonewall Riots in New York City triggered a radical turning point in the fight for gay rights in the United States. Many years later, they still mark one of the most pivotal events in the history of the gay liberation movement.
This Stonewall uprising, sparked by a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, led to six days of protests and confrontations with law enforcement. It ignited the flame for LGBT+ activism, leading to the creation of various gay rights organizations. Some of these included the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), both primarily focused on advocating for LGBT+ individuals' rights.
Transgender people also had pioneering figures who helped to push the movement forward. For example, Sylvia Rivera, a drag queen and transgender activist, is remembered for her passionate involvement during the Stonewall Riots.
Meanwhile, Marsha P. Johnson, a key figure in the riot and a close friend of Rivera, also played an influential role in promoting transgender rights. Rivera and Johnson co-founded Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970 to assist homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women.
Legislative and Legal Advancements of LGBTQ+ Rights
The history of the LGBTQ+ movement is also marked by slow but significant legal advancements and notable shifts in societal attitudes.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was a significant moment in LGBT+ history. This Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. It extended federal hate crime protections to individuals targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Another milestone legal decision came in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional—making same-sex marriage legal across the entire country. The plaintiff, Jim Obergefell, became an unexpected civil rights icon as his love story and eventual legal battle humanized the fight for marriage equality.
Efforts and Initiatives
In the face of global challenges, the United Nations continues to champion equality with its groundbreaking Free & Equal campaign. Since its inception in 2013, this worldwide initiative has been chipping away at the bedrock of homophobia and transphobia, highlighting the necessity of LGBT equality.
On the international stage, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) has been a change agent, uniting more than 1,600 organizations from over 150 countries. The ILGA's dedicated efforts have sparked a global conversation about equal rights for LGBTI individuals.
Look to the UK, and you'll see a government taking bold strides towards equality. The year 2018 marked the introduction of the LGBT Action Plan, a comprehensive commitment to enhancing the lives of LGBT individuals. It wasn't just about words; tangible changes were set in motion, from health and education reforms to personal safety enhancements.
Nonprofits, however, are where we often see the most direct impact. Take The Trevor Project, an organization that has become a lifeline for LGBTQ youth in the United States, offering invaluable crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. Then there's Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian nonprofit that defines courage. They don’t just advocate for change; they enact it, creating escape routes for LGBT individuals trapped in countries where they are targets of state-sponsored violence.
These organizations, governments, initiatives, and many more remind us that the fight for equality is vibrant and ongoing and that every hand helping and each voice raised brings us closer to a world where all can live free and equal.
How to Get Involved and Support LGBT+ History Month
Keen to immerse yourself in LGBT History Month festivities? There's an array of local events just waiting for you to explore. Vibrant parades, enlightening exhibitions, thoughtful panel discussions, and film screenings offer a chance to engage, learn, and amplify the cause. When you step foot at these events, you embrace a learning opportunity and add to the movement's visibility.
The digital age is a powerful ally in spreading the word. Leverage your social media platforms. Spread the rainbow far and wide with facts about LGBT history, share personal stories, or post about resources available. Feel free to share our pride quotes as a great place to start.
Eager for a more direct involvement? Roll up your sleeves and volunteer with a local LGBTQ community organization. These groups often need help with wide-ranging tasks - from event organization and community outreach to advocacy work and administration. A donation of your time can have a profound impact. Plus, working alongside seasoned advocates offers a chance to deepen your understanding of the fight for LGBT rights.
Monetary contributions, however small, can also make a big difference. These funds fuel crucial research, equip LGBT individuals with resources, and strengthen advocacy efforts. Don't overlook the power of your wallet - whether it's a one-off donation or a monthly contribution, every penny counts. And sometimes, support can be as straightforward as patronizing LGBT-owned businesses. A small act with a significant economic impact on the community.
Other LGTQ+ Awareness Events and Observances
- Pride Month: Celebrated in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. This month-long celebration includes pride parades, workshops, and global concerts.
- International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB): Observed on 17th May to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights and to promote acceptance worldwide.
- Transgender Day of Remembrance: Held annually on 20th November, this day honors the memory of the lives lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.
- National Coming Out Day (NCOD): Celebrated on October 11th every year, this day acknowledges and supports the experience of coming out as LGBTQ+.
- Asexual Awareness Week: Usually celebrated in October, it aims to raise awareness and understanding about asexual people.
- Bisexual Awareness Week: Also known as BiWeek, it is celebrated in September to increase the visibility of bisexual people and their unique experiences within the LGBTQ+ community.
- Lesbian Visibility Day: Celebrated annually on April 26, dedicated to celebrating lesbians and increasing visibility.
- World AIDS Day: Observed on December 1 to remember those in the queer community and beyond who have lost their lives to AIDS. It also raises awareness of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the LGBTQ+ community.
- Harvey Milk Day: Celebrated on May 22nd in honor of the influential gay rights activist Harvey Milk, assassinated in 1978.
- Christopher Street Liberation Day: Celebrated on June 28, this day honors the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Named after the location of the uprising, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City
As we pause to honor LGBT History Month, its profound relevance becomes evident. It isn't merely a memorial of the past but a powerful impetus for progress, sparking dialogues and concerted efforts that propel us toward a world marked by acceptance, inclusivity, and empathy. It invites us to delve into the vibrant mosaic of the LGBT community's history, its distinctive contributions, and the diverse experiences that have shaped our society.
LGBT+ History Month FAQs
LGBT History Month is a designated month-long observance that aims to recognize and celebrate the historical contributions and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals throughout history.
LGBT History Month is important because it helps to educate and raise awareness about the struggles, accomplishments, and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community. It fosters a sense of inclusivity, acceptance, and understanding.
LGBT History Month is celebrated in October every year. It was first observed in the United States in 1994 and has since spread to other countries around the world.
There are various ways to get involved in LGBT History Month. You can attend local events and workshops, educate yourself about LGBTQ+ history, share educational resources on social media, and support LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives.
LGBT History Month benefits society by promoting equality, diversity, and inclusivity. By recognizing and honoring the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals, it helps to challenge stereotypes, combat discrimination, and inspire future generations to be proud of their identities.
Russell, S. T., Fish, J. N., (2016). Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 12, 465-487.