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October is LGBT History Month

By Beth Clark • October 01, 2018

The History of LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month began with Missouri high school teacher Rodney Wilson, who believed that LGBT history is American history. He committed to establishing a month devoted to celebrating gay and lesbian history and educating others, and in 1994, other teachers and community leaders joined him in making it a reality. They chose October because public schools are in session at that time and it encompassed Coming Out Day on the 11th.

GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association, and other national organizations endorse LGBT History Month. Since 2006, Equality Forum, an education-focused international LGBT organization, has been providing its content, promotion, and resources.

LGBT History Month Goals and 2018 Icons

The overarching goal of LGBT History Month is to provide role models, help build connections, and highlight the contributions of the LGBT community worldwide. As part of that effort, LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of the 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender icons listed below by featuring one each day. (Follow the reveal here.)

  1. Gilbert Baker, American artist, gay rights activist, and creator of the rainbow flag
  2. Lance Bass, *NSYNC member, singer, actor, dancer, and producer
  3. James Beard, American chef, cookbook author, cooking school teacher, TV personality
  4. Elizabeth Birch, CEO of Elizabeth Birch Company and LGBT human rights leader
  5. Melvin Boozer, LGBT and African American activist, university professor, and politician
  6. Sandro Botticelli, Italian Renaissance painter
  7. Richard Burns, LGBT lawyer, advocate, and HIV activist
  8. Jonathan Capehart, American Pulitzer Prize-winner, journalist, and TV commentator
  9. Francisco Cartagena, Puerto Rican poet, advocate, and LGBTQ activist
  10. Debra Chasnoff, Oscar-winning director and documentary filmmaker
  11. Chi Chia-wei, Taiwanese gay rights activist
  12. Meg Christian, American folk singer, songwriter, activist, and feminist
  13. Ani DiFranco, Singer, songwriter, poet, activist, and Righteous Babe Foundation founder
  14. Gavin Grimm, Virginia high school student and transgender rights activist
  15. Sean Hayes, Will & Grace actor, singer, and comedian
  16. Joyce Hunter, PhD research scientist, college professor, and LGBTQ rights activist
  17. Tab Hunter, Hollywood movie star, singer, producer, and author
  18. Dale Jennings, Novelist, playwright, and American Gay Rights Movement pioneer
  19. Roberta Kaplan, American lawyer who defeated DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)
  20. Steve Letsike, Human rights activist, feminist, and co-chair of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC)
  21. Saul Levin, MD, LGBT rights advocate and first openly gay head of DC Department of Health, CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association
  22. Rachel Levine, MD, Transgender Physician General of Pennsylvania and LGBTQ advocate
  23. Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award-winning playwright, actor, and author
  24. Ann Northrop, Journalist, co-host of Gay USA weekly news program, and LGBT/AIDS activist
  25. Adam Rippon, Figure skater, first openly gay US winter Olympian, and LGBTQ advocate
  26. Danica Roem, First openly transgender person elected to a US statehouse (Virginia)
  27. Michelangelo Signorile, Journalist, radio talk show host, and author of Queer in America
  28. Dame Ethel Smyth, 20th century English composer, suffragette, and activist
  29. Leo Varadkar, First openly gay head of Irish government and same-sex marriage advocate
  30. Perry Watkins, African American champion of gay rights in the military
  31. Chely Wright, Country singer-songwriter

Why LGBT History Month Matters

In communities all over the globe, members are taught their history at home, in public schools, and in religious institutions. The LGBT community is not one of them. For LGBT youth in particular, that can be isolating and confusing, and school can be a nightmare for those who are the targets of verbal or physical harassment and until recently, they had nowhere to turn for support. Thanks to a mostly unseen rescue attempt by a small group of teachers who pushed to make schools safer for at-risk students, that’s changing. The Safe Schools movement’s success also bolstered a greater acceptance of LGBT individuals throughout society.

A Sampling of LGBT Milestones

371 BCE: An elite army of 150 male-male couples called the Sacred Band of Thebes was created and remained undefeated for decades.
1924: The first documented gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was founded in 1924 by Henry Gerber of Chicago.
1963: Gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin organized the March on Washington, the highlight of which was Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I Have A Dream" speech.
1978: The rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker as a symbol of pride and hope following Harvey Milk's assassination.
1997: Ellen DeGeneres comes out via her television show character.

The Future

History matters, but so does the future...where you're from and where you've been can help clarify and define who you are and where you're going. For the gay rights movement, the fight for true equality will be long, but not impossible to win. In "It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality", LGBT advocate and author Michelangelo Signorile has advice for the LGBT community and its supporters on what it will take to get to victory.

Up Next: National Coming Out Day

Founded in 1988 by psychologist Dr. Robert Eichberg and co-director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Jean O'Leary, National Coming Out Day celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or as an ally. It can take a tremendous amount of bravery to come out, but with it comes the freedom of living opening, and every person who does becomes a new advocate for equality.

Coming Out Reads:

Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey by Betty DeGeneres
Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence, Short Story Compilation Edited by Marion Dane Bauer
Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, Edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living by Dan Savage

For more coming out guides and support, visit the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Day resources page.

Read more by Beth Clark

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