This month, from the first to the thirtieth of October, is LGBTQ history month. It is a month where we look back into our past and present to remember those who helped the community get to where it is.
LGBTQ History month was first started by Rodney Wilson, a public high school history teacher from Missouri in 1994. He grew up religious, and as a result, he was not very sure of his sexuality. In an attempt to discover more of who he was, he turned to the past, and the people in it. He saw himself in the leaders of the LGBTQ movement and was able to ground himself. As a teacher, he had long supported history months and thought that an LGBTQ history month might help others find themselves as well.
Wilson chose October to be LGBTQ history month because coming out day is October 11, and the anniversary of the first LGBTQ march on Washington is October 14. We now remember 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, whose murder took place on October 12, 1998. His death sparked the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Spirit Day, a day where people wear purple in support of the LGBTQ community, is always the third Thursday of October as well. All these events, as well as Ally week, take place in October.
This year we are celebrating 31 Icons from the community. Here are a few of the leaders from the LGBTQ community who helped shape the world.
Nikolay Alexeyev is the founder of pride in Moscow, Russia. In 2005 he decided to dedicate his life to LGBTQ activism and fighting for rights. He was arrested many times for illegal protests and also appealed the right to hold Moscow pride. He has also campaigned against anti-LGBT hate speech and for recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2010 he made a huge step towards LGBTQ rights in Moscow, when the European Court of Human Rights fined the government, after ruling that Russia had violated Alexeyev’s right to protest.
Angie Craig is the first lesbian mother, who is out, to be elected into congress. In 1997 Craig and her partner struggled to adopt a child in Tennessee, a state more unwelcoming than others to the community. In a three year battle that allowed them to adopt a son, she made it easier for other same-sex couples in Tennessee to adopt as well. Then in 2016, she ran for congress in Minnesota against an anti-LGBTQ talk show host, losing by less than 7000 votes. She ran against him again in 2018 and won. In 2019 she introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which sought to end anti-LGBT discrimination in foster care and adoption.
Felicia Elizondo is a Hispanic transgender icon who fought for her own rights her entire life. Due to the lack of information in education systems, Elizondo grew up believing she was gay. At the age of 16, she became a regular at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, a place where drag queens and transgender women could hang out in public. In 1966 it became the site of one of the first LGBTQ riots in the US, before Stonewall. At 18 Elizondo joined the military and went to Vietnam, where she was dishonorably discharged after coming out as gay. She later petitioned to have her discharge classified as honorable and was successful. In 1973, Elizondo finished her gender confirmation surgery. She did so after coming to realize her identity when watching a film about the first nationally know transgender women in America. In 1987, during the AIDs epidemic, Elizondo tested positive for HIV and returned to San Francisco to help others living with HIV/AIDS. Elizondo is still working today to bring attention to trans history and has garnered attention for the community as a whole.
Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju are two Indian lawyers who in 2018 won a case in India that decriminalized homosexuality. After they won the case they came out to the media as a couple. In 2013, they worked co-consul on a case defending a 2009 ruling. The ruling decided that Section 377 of the British Penal Code, which criminalized gay sex, was unconstitutional. When the court ruled to uphold Section 377, the couple decided to make sure that the LGBTQ community was never invisible in court ever again. The ruling in 2018 ended the 155-year-old colonial law by decriminalizing homosexuality and giving LGBTQ Indians the rights and protections of the country’s constitution. The court decision set an important legal precedent for LGBTQ rights in other non-Western countries, and many countries like Botswana followed suit, all thanks to Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju.
Bernárd Lynch is a gay Irish Catholic priest, activist and author. He was born in Ireland and was ordained in 1971 at Saint Colman’s Cathedral Newry, after attending seminary outside of Belfast. After coming out to another priest, they decided it was best that he go to the US to pursue graduate studies. Lynch went to Fordham University and New York Theological Seminary, completing an interdisciplinary doctorate in counseling psychology and theology in 1975 after arriving in New York. In 1982, during the AIDs epidemic, Lynch founded the city’s first AIDS ministry program at Dignity New York. He aided thousands of people with HIV/AIDS, providing spiritual healing by reconciling individuals with their faiths and their families and by guiding them through their deaths, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender. He was outspoken and publicly campaigned and testified for the 1986 New York City bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in jobs and housing. He continues to speak out and write despite being denied his canonical rights, which banned him from serving as a priest in the United States. In January 2017, Lynch married his longtime partner, Billy Desmond, in Ireland, and in 2019 the Irish government presented him with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed upon citizens abroad.
Deborah Batts was the first federal judge who was open about being gay. She did not wish for her sexuality to define her, but rather by all her traits. She was an African American woman who was a lesbian judge. She was a mother and a former professor, and she broke down doors and barriers for so many people. She passed away this year from complications following surgery on her knee.
Ifti Nasim was a gay Pakistani-American poet who wrote LGBT-themed collections that were published internationally. He was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where he was bullied and ostracized as a young gay man. At the age of 21 he moved to the US where he pursued poetry at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1986, when Nasim was 40, he helped to found an advocacy group that supports young people of South Asian origin called Sangat Chicago. Nasim wrote in English as well as in Urdu and Punjabi, two languages spoken in Pakistan. He published three books of poems in Urdu, which talked about the troubles of LGBT people in Muslim and developing countries. His work started a movement of “honest” poetry and was distributed in the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and Germany, and the underground in India and Pakistan. In 1994, Chicago’s South Asian Family Services awarded him the Rabindranath Tagore Award for his poetry, then in 1996 he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. Nasim died in 2011 after a heart attack.
Claudia López has done a great deal for the LGBTQ community in Colombia, despite not being an activist. López the first woman and the first out gay person to be elected mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, a conservative country. As a reporter, she exposed infiltrators in high levels of government and got more than 60 congressmen prosecuted. When she was a senator she co-led a ballot referendum to reduce corruption, and in 2013 exposed a former governor as a major drug trafficker, which led to him being sentenced to 55 years in prison. She won the race for Mayor in October 2019, married her wife in December 2019, and took office on January 1, 2020.
All of these people have had a hand in shaping the world into the more accepting place it is today. There are so many people from the community that are unknown and that’s why this month is LGBTQ history month. This month is about remembering them and all they have done, and continue to do for the LGBTQ community.
If you would like to check out the other LGBTQ idols of this years LGBTQ history month this is the link to the website.