The LGBTQIAP+ community has a rich and varied history. Each identity in our community has its own unique history, but our struggles and identities are so related to one another that this relation has played a vital role in our communities history. This history is important, as we have to look back to see how we have gotten this far. Learning how far we’ve come helps us to look forward and see how far we still have to go. That is why October being LGBTQIAP+ history month is as vital as it is. We have to be aware of the people who helped us get this far and how they did it, so we can continue their fight and live the lives they never could. We as a community have been fighting for our rights, for as long as we have existed. I want to talk about some of the LGBTQIAP+’s history and the history of some of the identities that fall under it.
The first identity’s history I want to talk about is what the first letter stands for. Lesbians. Lesbian has historically been used to describe women loving women, but recently the term has expanded into 2 non-men loving each other, with nonbinary people identifying as a lesbian. The history of these identities and even the terms will keep changing. Have you ever wondered why the L comes before every other letter in the LGBTQIAP+ community? The L being the first letter is because lesbians have been underrepresented and overlooked historically in LGBTQIAP+ safe spaces. With the HIV/AIDS crisis came solidarity between gay men and lesbian, causing this to change. With lesbian women contributing immensely to help gay men during the AIDS crisis gay men realized that lesbians were willingly to help them. They also played a major role in the Stonewall Riots, as many lesbians were in the riots after the Stonewall raid by police. Lesbians being represented as the first letter was to show that lesbians were not underappreciated or overlooked in our community and that they were just as important as anyone else.
The second identity I want to talk about is gay men and their history. Gay is a term used by many people in the LGBTQIAP+ to describe themselves, but I’m going to be talking about gay men specifically. In recent history one of the most impactful events to gay men and the LGBTQIAP+ community was the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It began in the 1980s when HIV/AIDs spread across the US. The HIV/AIDS epidemic affected everyone, but heavily impacted the LGBTQIAP community, especially gay men. With gay men mostly getting these diseases it caused mass hysteria towards the LGBQTIAP+ community. This led to the epidemic only getting worse, as there is no known cure and the best way to fight it is by spreading awareness and teaching safe sex. This mass hysteria stigmatized the LGBTQIAP+ community further and led to more hate crimes against them. This stigmatization caused the US government to not do anything about HIV/AIDS, so it spread without any hindrance due to lack of effort by the US government. The US government's stigmatization could be seen as 37 states criminalizing knowing you have HIV and not disclosing it before actions that could spread it. 8 states still have this law, those states being Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. The HIV/AIDS epidemic affected gay men the hardest and especially gay men of color, due to systemic racism causing inability to access necessary healthcare, which still continues today. Gay men also participated in the Stonewall Riots in New York City in late June of 1969. Gay men’s perseverance through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as the stigmatization at the time cannot be understated. Through all of this struggle recent events have looked more optimistic, with same sex marriage being legal in the US with the supreme court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. However the Supreme Court has said that this decision might be something they might reevaluate in another case. If they were to do this it would set back our rights tremendously. With all that gay men have had to deal with they have made significant progress towards their rights. Even though they have made progress; they, and we as a community, have a long way to go.
The third identity and the third letter is bisexual. Bisexuality is a very unjustly and overly scrutinized identity by many people even within the LGBTQIAP+ community. This is due to them being attracted to both men and women or attracted to two genders. This scrutinization of bisexual people is very damaging to their identities. It can even isolate them from LGBTQIAP+ places, as if they date someone from a different gender than them they are viewed as straight, when they are not. Bisexual people have a lot of overlapping history with gay and lesbian identities and this causes their specific history to be hard to find. As many people just see bisexual people as either gay or straight. Their histories overlap due to many of their rights and struggles being similar. For example the HIV/AIDS epidemic affected gay men and bisexual men the most. Another would be lesbians and bisexual women being overlooked due to them being women. This causes the major overlap in histories between bisexuals, lesbians, and gays. Even though bisexual history is closely intertwined with other similar history does not make that identity any less beautiful or unique.
The fourth identity is transgender or its shorter term trans. Trans is a very diverse identity with many other identities falling under it. Transgender is a term for anyone that doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and they choose to identify as trans. The other unique thing is that unlike other identities so far, trans is about a gender identity not a sexual one. The reason the T is included is because trans people have found safe places in LGBTQIAP+ spaces, due to their gender being more accepted in these places. Trans people have played a massive role in pushing forward LGBTQIAP+ rights as well as trans rights. The role trans people have played in helping the LGBTQIAP+ community cannot be understated with organizations like Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries ,or STAR, that helped homeless gay youth and provided help to gay prisoners. Even though trans people found LGBTQIAP+ places safe that did not mean that they were always safe or even welcome in a lot of these spaces. With many gay and lesbian people considering trans people not part of the community. This continues today even though trans people have served important roles in the LGBTQIAP+ community, with most people recognizing trans and other LGBTQIAP+ struggles are the same. Trans people even participated in the Stonewall riots, as many of them were also victims of the initial raid by police. Even though their inclusion in the LGBTQIAP+ community is scrutinized they play a vital role in our community and have always fought for all LGBTQIAP+ rights. Trans people still face hardship with the rapid rise of anti-trans laws and transphobia in the US. If you want to see which states you should avoid as a trans person refer to this map by Erin Reed, a trans journalist. Throughout all of this trans people have still pushed forward and fought to be themselves.
The Q in the name stands for queer. This is one of the most broad identities in our community and their history is very interesting. The history of this identity is very much in the name. Queer used to be a slur for LGBTQIAP+ community and people still use it that way. However in the late 1980’s LGBTQIAP+ people started to reclaim it. One of the earliest examples is Queer Nation being an organization founded in March of 1990. Queer is now used as a very broad term of how people define their sexuality or gender. It is also used by many to refer to the LGBTQIAP+ community as a whole. Queer is a word reclaimed by our community that can be used as a way to define who you are. We have turned the word from a weapon aimed at us to a word that brings us together and defines us.
The I in the name stands for intersex. Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that aren’t binary. These can be characteristics like testes or breasts or they can be as subtle as chromosomes. Whether their characteristics are testes or chromosomes they are just as unique and prove that sex isn’t as binary as people like to believe. Intersex people have existed for as long as humanity has, as proof of intersex people can be found everywhere. A big challenge intersex people face is when doctors or their families choose to have a doctor change their sex from birth.This permanently alters their bodies and robs them of their choice. They lose their bodily autonomy from birth. They also face similar problems to what trans people face with being shunned by their family and society due to their sex or gender falling outside the binary. Intersex people are proof that people aren’t binary and that being different or unique isn’t a bad thing, but a beautiful thing.
Asexual, Agender, and Aromantic
The seventh letter A represents a couple of identities, being asexuality, agender, and aromantic. Asexuality and aromantic are both spectrums. Asexual people might not experience any sexual attraction or very little. It varies person to person. This applies to aromantic as well with some experiencing no romantic attraction and some very little. It all just depends on that person and how they identify as asexual or aromatic. Asexual and aromantic are also on the same spectrum and are very similar with people being somewhere on the aro-ace spectrum. Agender is someone who has no gender identity. They lack any gender whatsoever. Asexuality and aromantic identities have been and still are questioned about whether they are LGBTQIAP+. People tend to not include them, as they don’t fit into what they view as queer. Asexual people face prejudice because people question whether or not asexuality is a mental disorder. This is almost identical to how people viewed same sex attraction as a mental disorder. That is why including the A in our community’s title is so important. They are a part of the community and face the same hardships we had to go through. Asexual people are just as valid as any other identity in our community. Aromantic faces the problem of people just saying, “You haven’t found the right person yet”. This is incredibly invalidating as they might not experience romantic attraction. There is nothing wrong about them. They are entirely valid in who they are and how they feel. Agender could fall under the nonbinary umbrella, which itself falls under the trans umbrella. Someone who is agender might not identify as trans or nonbinary. It all just depends on what identity they feel fits with them. Due to this agender people have to deal with the same problems as trans people. Even though it shares the same problems as trans people and some of them might even identify as trans it is still a unique identity that is important to our community. The letter A stands for 3 unique identities that are all valid and deserve to be highlighted in our community’s name.
The last identity in our community’s name is Pansexual. Pansexual people are attracted to people regardless of their gender. Pansexual people struggle with the same problems as bisexual people when it comes to the legitimacy of them being part of the LGBTQIAP+ community based on who they date. This question of their legitimacy only further invalidates them. It doesn’t matter who as pansexual person is dating or is attracted to they are still no less part of our community. Pansexual people are just as valid as any other identity in our community and just as beautiful.
Even though I have talked about every identity in our name I want to acknowledge the plus. Our community’s name will always adapt, evolve, and continue to expand. The identities that lie outside of the LGBTQIAP are still just as important to our community as any other identity. Even if your identity isn’t represented in the community’s name it is represented in the plus. The plus shows our community’s incredible ability of acceptance and change. So if your identity isn’t represented in our name your history and identity is just as important as any other.
After talking about all of the identities and some of their history you could see how much their histories overlap and how closely related they are to each other. With that I want to talk about some milestones and events in our history and the impact they had on our community. The first event is one of the most important events in recent LGBTQIAP+ history. The Stonewall Riots The Stonewall Riots were a series of riots lasting from June 28th to July 3rd of 1969. These riots were in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. To understand why one police raid would cause 6 days of riots it is important to know the context behind these police raids. In the 1960’s same sex relations were illegal in New York City. This led to LGBTQIAP+ people going to gay bars and clubs to find safe places to be themselves. However New York City penalized and shut down bars that would serve LGBTQIAP+ individuals or were suspected of being LGBTQIAP+. This law ended up getting overturned when LGBTQIAP+ people sued and caused this law to be taken out of effect. The law being overturned allowed LGBTQIAP+ people to be served alcohol in bars. However they were still not allowed to show same sex relations in public, leading them to still rely on illegal gay bars for safe spaces. One way they would enforce these laws was heavily invasive police raids. These police raids were incredibly dehumanizing, as they were harassed, arrested, and would have women police officers “check” the sexes of women to make sure they weren’t crossdressing. After years of this abuse the LGBTQIAP+ people in New York City were fed up. The police raids were heavily calculated, as they would barricade windows and doors to prevent escape. This raid would not go as smoothly as others. It began on June 28th 1969 at 1:20 a.m. The police raided the Stonewall Inn a gay bar. Once they had everybody detained they started to run into issues. Men refused to give their ID’s. People refused to get their sex “checked” by them. With all of this refusal police started to assault some of the lesbian women. The police let the people they weren’t arresting out of the bar. However the people stayed outside and the crowd grew to around 100 people in minutes. They started to put the arrested into police vans, with tensions rising the more they put people into them. The riot started when a woman was hit in the head by a police officer, while being put into a police van. She shouted for the bystanders to do something. They began to throw things like pennies, pebbles, and bottles at the police. The police barricaded themselves into the bar. The mob repeatedly tried to set the building on fire, with some success. The rioters were dispersed and the fire department arrived to put out the flames. Riots continued for the next five days with some numbering in the thousands. When the riots finally stopped after five days our community’s message was clear. We were not going to be quiet anymore. The Stonewall riots catalyzed the LGBTQIAP+ rights movement. With many organizations forming, leaders started pushing more, and the LGBTQIAP+ became louder. A year after Stonewall was the first Pride parade held in New York CIty. This would eventually form into what we know as LGBTQIAP+ Pride month. That is why lot’s of pride marches happen in late June. Stonewall showed that the LGBTQIAP+ were tired of being mistreated and we were willing to fight for change.
Now I want to talk about a person who played a major role in the advancement of LGBTQIAP+ rights. This person was a man named Harvey Milk. He was a gay man living in San Francisco in the late 1960s and 1970s. San Francisco was a common place for LGBTQIAP+ to migrate to. Harvey Milk would run for offices in San Francisco to no avail. He would finally get elected when he was appointed to the Board of Permit Appeals in 1976. This made him the first openly gay city commissioner in the US before being fired 5 weeks later for running for California State Assembly. John Briggs, a conservative politician in California, pushed for California Proposition 6. Proposition six would allow schools to fire public school teachers, teacher's aides, administrators, or counselors if they were gay. When Briggs was asked if he hated gay people his response was, “Just politics, It’s just politics.” Yet he would call San Francsco a sexual garbage heap and a week later a gay man was killed by 15 stab wounds, with his attackers hurling slurs at him. After this a few weeks later 250,000 people would show up to the San Francisco Pride Parade, the largest attendance ever at the time. Proposition 6 was a proposition that the LGBTQIAP+ community couldn’t allow to pass. So Harvey Milk along with Sally Gearhart, Gwenn Craig, Bill Kraus, Tom Ammiano, and Hank Wilson created the Come out! Come out! Wherever you are. This encouraged LGBTQIAP+ people to come out to their family and friends to show non community members how many of us there are. They also sent people door to door to tell people about the harm it would cause. With all of this effort when the proposition reached the ballot on November 7, 1978 the results were in with 41% of people voting yes and 58% voting no. The Proposition was not passed due to the courage and bravery of all of the LGBTQIAP+ people that came out to their families. This shows the incredible lengths we will go to fight for our rights. Harvey Milk was one of the leading members of this movement and helped this proposition not become law. Tragically, he was murdered by Dan White on November 27, 1978. He had also killed George Moscone, San Francisco’s mayor, on the exact same day. When Dan was arrested he showed no remorse for his actions. During the trial only white middle-class San Franciscans who were mostly Catholic were allowed on the jury with gay and people of color excused from the jury. This ended with Dan White being found guilty for voluntary manslaughter of both victims, but a first degree murder charge was acquitted. This caused many to become angry and protestors walked on city hall to protest the verdict. Even the acting mayor condemned the verdict. Harvey Milk always knew running for office as a gay man was dangerous. When he was elected for California State Assembly he got increasingly more violent death threats. He said on tape, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door". I think what he said on tape sums up what he cares about. He pushed for a better world for the LGBTQIAP+ community.
Miss Major Griffin Gracey
Another person that is important to our history is Miss Major Griffin Gracey. She is a trans woman of color who is a trans activist, as well as someone who helped trans people in the criminal justice system. She pushes through change using community. She worked at food banks, helped during the AIDS/HIV crisis by volunteering, as well as working for AIDS/HIV organizations. Also in 2004 began working as Executive Director at the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project or TGIJP. Her work there had her go to trans women in prison to help coordinate access to legal services. Also as executive director she gave testimony to the California State Assembly and United Nations Human Rights Committee about human rights violations in prison. She also frequented Stonewall Inn and was there during the first night of the riots. WIth her stating, “This one night, though, everybody decided this time we weren't going to leave the bar. And shit just hit the fan.” Miss Major Griffin Gracey is proof that even on a smaller scale you can still help and push for LGBQIAP+ rights and is just as important as on a large scale.
Why it All Matters
The LGBTQIAP+ community’s history is important and necessary. Understanding how these people overcame challenges or how they fought for our rights is important. Without knowing our history we won’t know if we are making the same mistakes. We would also be throwing away decades and centuries of knowledge and wisdom of how to fight. Without looking back we can’t see how fiercely our community has fought for our rights, We wouldn’t see the people who risked their lives or paved the way for the rights we have today. We wouldn’t see how many of us there truly are. Without looking back we can’t see how far we’ve come or how much farther we still have to go.