Wait! What? Isn’t June the month when the LGBTQ community celebrates Pride events? Yes, it is! But October is the official annual month for celebrating the history of our community. It’s not unusual to have celebrations and month-long observances in differing months. For example, the Hispanic community celebrates Cinco de Mayo in May, but Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15 each year. That’s when the community celebrates the history and culture of the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities. Therefore, this article looks at the history of LGBTQ Month.
According to Wikipedia, LGBT History Month is a month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. Much of that history includes the gay rights and civil rights movements. Rodney Wilson, a high-school history teacher and the first openly gay public-school teacher in Missouri, is credited with being the founder in 1994. It’s celebrated in the United States, Canada and Australia in October. The United Kingdom, Hungary, Brazil, Greenland and others celebrate it in other months.
LGBT History Month is designed to provide role models, build community, and serve as a civil rights statement about the contributions of the LGBTQ community to our various countries. It’s meant to coincide with National Coming Out Day on October 11 and to commemorate the first and second marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987 for LGBT rights. Originally known as Lesbian and Gay History Month, it was later expanded to include the entire LGBTQ community. LGBTQ History Month was intended to encourage honesty and openness about being LGBTQ.
Early supporters included the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the National Education Association (NEA). Governors William Weld of Massachusetts and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut also were supporters. Mayors Thomas Menino of Boston and Wellington Webb of Denver issued official city proclamations. In 2006, the Equality Forum began picking 31 LGBTQ icons from all over the world and from differing eras of history. They highlighted one each day during the month. For the first time ever, two American school districts celebrated the month in 2012. They were the Broward County School District in Florida and the Los Angeles School District in California.
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is a key event during the month. Again, according to Wikipedia, it was first celebrated in the United States in 1988. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary are credited with founding this day of celebration. Their initial idea had foundation in the “feminist” and “gay liberation” spirit of the personal being political, and the emphasis on the most basic form of “coming out” to family, friends, and colleagues. The concept is about living your authentic life as a member of the LGBTQ community. Eichberg was a psychologist from New Mexico. He died from complications from AIDS in 1995. O’Leary was an openly lesbian political leader and long-time activist from New York.
Eichberg and O’Leary believed that homophobia (and now transphobia) thrived in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance. That once people know that they have loved ones who are part of the LGBTQ community they are far less likely to maintain those oppressive views. In 1993, Eichberg said “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”
Coming Out is an intensely personal decision for each of us. Although similar, our journeys are unique to each of us. There are consequences, both positive and negative, for coming out of the closet about being part of this community. They can include loss of family, employment, housing, reputation, safety and even your life depending on your circumstances and environment. You should never “Out” someone without their permission. You don’t know where they are in their journey and you may place them in danger.
It took me years to navigate my own coming out as Transgender. The fears and consequences are real. But I, like many, agree with Eichberg and O’Leary. It’s important to represent our community publicly. When you know a person, personally, of our community the focus can shift from the fears and stereotypes to seeing people as people. For many of my friends, I was the first transgender they consciously knew. For them, the more they knew – the more they understood. It’s also important to the generations that follow us – to see that it’s possible to live their authentic lives too!