7 things you should know about the history of LGBTQ+ activism

To celebrate LGBT History Month, we take a look at some crucial moments throughout the duration of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

October is LGBTQ+ history month. In the picture, a Pride flag in a protest.
Image: Via Unsplash - Raphael Renter

For many years now, October has become a special month for the international queer community. And no, this is not about Halloween… it’s about remembering, sharing and discovering LGBTQ+ history through LGBT History Month!

Established in 1994, LGBT History Month is celebrated internationally with the goal of sharing and teaching queer history, since it is rarely included in regular school curricula. During this month, schools, media and other institutions are encouraged to amplify important stories of the LGBTQ+ community and of the many historical figures who have heroically fought for equality and liberation.

To join in on the celebrations, we have compiled a list of crucial facts to learn about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement and how the fight for equality unfolded throughout the decades.

1. The first documented LGBTQ+ organisation in the US
Although in popular belief the beginning of the US LGBTQ+ movement seems to be tied to the Stonewall Riots, its history began many years before. In 1924, German immigrant Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, the first documented organisation dedicated to gay rights in the United States.

He was inspired to do so by a “homosexual emancipation” group in Germany, which he came to know during his army service in World War I. The organisation was forced to disband in 1925 because of police raids, but 90 years later, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

2. The beginnings of Transgender visibility
The very first person to have their preferred gender legally recognised was Karl M. Barr, a German-Israeli Trans man who, in 1907 (more than a hundred years ago!) had a male birth certificate issued.

While he was the first, there’s another name closely tied to how Trans visibility started to increase many years ago: Christine Jorgensen. Having a successful career as a singer and actress, she became widely famous in the US during the 1950s for having undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Jorgensen used her platform to advocate for the rights of Trans people and her fame allowed many in the US to learn about Trans lives for the first time, thus increasing the visibility of the community.

3. The Stonewall Riots and the birth of Pride
We cannot properly celebrate LGBT History Month without mentioning one of the most famous events to catalyse the Pride movement: the Stonewall Riots. In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a prominent gay bar in the city known for allowing dancing and welcoming drag queens and homeless youth.

It was yet-another episode of police harassment, to which the club had been subjected for years, and it prompted patrons and clients to finally react. They began throwing objects at the police, trying to prevent them from arresting people, and eventually the scene turned into a full-blown riot.

Among the most prominent figures to fight back in the Stonewall Riots were Trans women Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. The episode is commonly acknowledged to be the birth of the modern Pride movement.

4. The crucial role of the ‘Mother of Pride’
Pioneering bisexual activist Brenda Howard earned the nickname ‘Mother of Pride’ when she became heavily involved in planning the very first Pride march to take place in New York in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was the start of Pride celebrations as we know them today.

Other than being part of the Gay Liberation Front and chair of the Gay Activists’ Alliance for several years, Howard also participated in anti-war and feminist movements and, for her entire life, she was unapologetic about her sexuality, which included kink and polyamory.

5. The creation of the Pride flag
Today the famous Pride flag has become the symbol of the queer community and of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights. Its history started in 1978, when Gilbert Baker invented it and first exhibited at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade.

The Pride flag has evolved and taken different shapes in the years since and nowadays we have a variety of flags to represent all the specific identities that are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

6. The impact of the outbreak of AIDS
The increasing expansion of the global movement for LGBTQ+ rights suffered a brutal setback with the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. The first cases became known in 1981, when the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in the US published a report about five gay men infected with a rare type of pneumonia.

The movement started to focus on demands for medical funding and action from governments to combat the AIDS epidemic, which caused many members of the LGBTQ+ community to die and many others to lose their loved ones. Public campaigns were launched to counter the public perception that AIDS was a “gay disease” and to protest the inactivity of governments in acting to protect the marginalised communities that were impacted by the epidemic.

7. The start of marriage equality
Although Denmark was the first country in the world to enact a law on registered partnerships, which granted same-sex couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, real marriage equality was first established in the Netherlands in 2000. Since then, 33 countries have legalised same-sex marriage, with the latest addition being Cuba in September 2022.

Ireland also earned a spot in the history of marriage equality when it became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote, in a referendum held in 2015.

Learning the history of the LGBTQ+ community is crucial to understanding the discrimination that queer people still face today, especially at a time when certain rhetoric that was used in the past to vilify us is resurfacing. If you wish to celebrate LGBT History Month, share the stories of your queer heroes and help spread awareness about the changes that are still needed in our society today.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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