We all know that June is Gay Pride Month but did you know that October is Gay History Month? In order to coincide with National Coming Out Day on October 11th, this month was designated and first celebrated in 1994 as an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history. Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, had gathered together other teachers and community leaders to form the first coordinating committee, choosing October not only because of Coming Out Day but also because public schools are then in session, and they felt it important to include this history in their curriculum.
Early supporters and members of the first coordinating committee included: Kevin Jennings of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Kevin Boyer of the Gerber/Hart Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives in Chicago; Paul Varnell, writer for the Windy City Times; Torey Wilson, Chicago area teacher; Johnda Boyce, women’s studies major at Columbus State, and Jessea Greenman of UC-Berkeley. In addition to support from gay and lesbian organizations, the inaugural month was recognized with official proclamations by Governors William Weld of Massachusetts and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and Mayors Thomas Menino of Boston and Wellington Webb of Denver.
By the second annual celebration in October 1995, LGBT History Month had received mainstream coverage in Newsweek magazine. Nonetheless, there was some controversy, especially when Wilson and the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the National Education Association (NEA) pressed for and received an endorsement of LGBT History Month. Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America bought full-page ads in newspapers condemning the NEA and warning parents: “It [LGBT History Month] may be celebrated at your school before the month is over. Please call now. This must be stopped.”
They succeeded. At the 1996 Representative Assembly, NEA delegates voted to remove specific mention of all history months from their resolutions, even long-established Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
Over the next 10 years, LGBT History Month continued to grow, with hundreds of colleges and universities, community libraries, and some high schools commemorating a month that provides role models, makes a civil rights statement, and builds community. Since 2006, Equality Forum (https://equalityforum.com/), a national and international LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus, has provided content, promotion, and resources for LGBT History Month. Each day in October on its website, it highlights an “Icon” with a video, biography, bibliography, images, and other downloadable educational resources including special features for students.
I met one of this year’s Icons, Gavin Grimm, at the American Humanist Association Conference in May. Born female, he spoke poignantly of his struggle with sexual identity from an early age, his diagnosis of severe gender dysphoria and subsequent medical treatment, as well as the insults and threats he endured when he tried to use the boys’ bathroom. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit on Gavin’s behalf, arguing that the school’s policy violated Title IX laws prohibiting sex discrimination. In 2018 the U.S. District Court ruled that his school violated the rights of transgender students by excluding them from the bathroom matching their gender identity.
“I’m just Gavin,” he said. “I have frustrations, stress, hopes, and dreams like millions of young people in America. And like everyone else, sometimes I have to use the restroom. It’s not political. It’s just life.”
In recognition of LGBT History Month, we are offering the three programs described in this newsletter. On Thursday, October 4, at 6 pm, Empowering Ethical Elders presents “Wisdom of LGBTQ Elders.” Ethics & the Theater’s selection for Friday, October 12 at 6:30 pm is “The Young Man from Atlanta.” Finally, our Sunday platform on October 28 at 11 am features Jared Fox, who will describe his journey from surviving a hate crime to creating change with LGBTQ youth. Join us for all of these programs and visit Equality Forum to learn more about this important history month.