Gray Strain is the Assistant Director for Diversity and Belonging at BGSU, and goes by they/them/theirs pronouns.
LGBTQ+ History Month was started in 1994 by Missouri high school teacher Rodney Wilson. It is a time of year to reflect on the struggles, gains and continuing work of LGBTQ+ people. Our stories often go untold and our history is not regularly taught or shared –– or often contains inaccuracies and stereotypes –– and this month seeks to change that.
The Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 are often seen as the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement in the U.S. They were sparked by predominantly queer and trans people of color resisting a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular working-class gay and lesbian bar in Greenwich Village.
LGBTQ+ bars faced regular raids by police, during which individuals not wearing at least three pieces of “gender-appropriate” clothing were often arrested. (In 1969, “masquerading” as a different sex was a crime in New York, and “homosexual acts” were illegal in every state except Illinois).
Prior to Stonewall, organizations such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis formed to address the topic of “gay and lesbian rights,” as the community dealt with societal prejudices. This includes the 1953 executive order by President Eisenhower banning “homosexuals” from working in the federal government.
A year after the Stonewall Riots, Christopher Street Liberation Day was celebrated, often considered to be the first pride parade. In the years that followed Stonewall and the first pride parade, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973 and the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights brought 75,000 to 125,000 people to the nation’s capital in 1979.
The ‘70s and ‘80s were a period of continued political activity, with the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s uniquely impacting the LGBTQ+ community and spawning organizations such as GLAAD in 1985 and ACT UP in 1987.
The ‘90s and ‘00s were marked with LGBTQ+ setbacks and gains. President Bill Clinton’s administration in the ‘90s presented federal policies prohibiting the full range of gay and lesbian social and political expression, with the policy prohibiting openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military signed in 1993 (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) and the Defense of Marriage Act banning federal recognition of same sex marriage in 1996.
These policies would not be overturned until 2011 and 2015 respectively, the latter coming from a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. In the early 2000s, the Supreme Court also ruled in the case Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, federally decriminalizing same-sex sexual contact.
We have also seen in recent years a back-and-forth regarding transgender issues. The 1960 blanket ban on transgender people in the U.S. military was lifted in 2016 and then reinstated via President Trump’s Twitter in 2017 (and later memorandum in 2018).
Transgender individuals’ ability to serve in line with their lived gender identity as opposed to sex assigned at birth is still a strained situation, relying on medical diagnoses or criteria regarding medical transition. But the LGBTQ+ community has experienced a recent clear victory with the Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that gender identity and sexual orientation are included as protected categories regarding employment non-discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The amount and frequency of change for the LGBTQ+ community in the 20th century and into the 21st century cannot be covered in full here, but the above-mentioned events demonstrate the newness and uncertainty of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other members of the larger community.
LGBTQ+ History Month is not only about looking back at our history; it is also about recognizing that we are always in the middle of that history, and that our work is never done. We should not only ask ourselves if we know our history, butalso ask if what we are doing today puts us on the side of history we want to be on. What have you done this October to learn about, support and take action for LGBTQ+ people?