Why the UK and US celebrate Black History Month and LGBT History Month differently

The UK and the US celebrate Black History Month (#BHM) and LGBT History Month (#LGBTHM or #LGBTHM17) on different months — February and October.

So, the US celebrate #BHM in February and #LGBTHM in October, while the UK celebrates #BHM in October and #LGBTHM in February,

Judging by the mentions that @AmnestyUK_LGBTI has been getting in the last few days, it looks like a lot of people are confused about the different dates — is the UK undermining Black History Month by celebrating LGBT History Month in February?

Short answer: different countries, different history, different rules.

The long answer needs a quick history lesson: let’s start with Black History Month.

On Black History Month

In 1926, historian Carter Godwin Woodson set up the second week of February to be the “Negro History Week”. He chose this week for two reasons: (1) the week coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), who abolished slavery (which officially ended on December 6th, 1865)

And (2) the birthday of Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14), who, after escaping from slavery, became a national leader of the abolitionist movement.

Then, in 1969, the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State U. proposed to expand the celebration from one week to a month — the whole month of February. Kent State started celebrating it as a month-long event in 1970, and it took 6 years for the tradition to be officially recognised by the US government.

Thus, #BHM remains a tradition celebrated in February in the US due to the American history behind, and keeping in with Carter G. Woodson’s will to celebrate it in February.

Now, fast forward 17 years later — Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo thought to introduce Black History Month in the UK following an incident at work: you can read about it from his own words here.

A very traditional Ghanaian man, Akyaaba (pronounced a-chee-A-ba) picked October as the ideal month for a few reasons: (1) October has a deep significance in most African cultures, as that’s when the autumn equinox takes place; (2) October is seen as a harvest season for so many African cultures (especially in West Africa), and as such it’s the period of the Yam Festivals (particularly in Ghana and in Nigeria), a period of harvesting, and that has been the case since ancient Egypt; (3) October is when African chiefs and leaders gather to settle their differences, and as such, it’s the month of self-examination (kinda like how folks nowadays observe the end of December and beginning of January as a new start — New Year’s resolutions etc.). These were the main reasons why Akyaaba chose October, to reconnect with African roots and African traditions — cradle of civilisation after all.

There is another reason why Akyaaba chose October however — (4) October coincides with the beginning of the school year in the UK. Kids are back to school, their minds are ready to learn, they feel refreshed, with replenished energy — enough to learn about their heritage. Akyaaba built this tradition up mostly for the kids, as that’s where he got the inspiration from, so it makes sense that he centred Black History Month around them and around the African traditions he was so familiar with.

UK’s Black History Month was officially recognised and first celebrated in London, and it spread across the UK soon thereafter.

So, in a nutshell: the US celebrate Black History Month due to its American history, while the UK celebrates Black History Month due to its British history + traditions deeply rooted in African culture(s).

Now that we’ve cleared Black History Month, let’s talk about LGBT History Month, celebrated in February in the UK, but in October in the US.

Why? Again:

Short answer: different countries, different history, different rules.

The long answer needs another quick history lesson.

On LGBT History Month

Let’s start with the US: October 11 was already celebrated as National Coming Out Day, and it was widely known across the States, mostly due to its history rooted in the Second March of Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights — or as we know it today, The Great March (October 11, 1987) — you can read more about it here.

Missouri high-school history teacher Rodney Wilson saw October as the perfect month to celebrate the community not only for a day, but for the whole month. Thus, LGBT History Month was first celebrated in October 1994.

So, it makes perfect sense for LGBT History Month to be celebrated in October in the US, due to the events that took place in that month and the importance that those events have on American LGBTQ history.

Things are different in the UK, and so is British LGBTQ history. For two decades, Section 28 affected England, Wales and Scotland.

Section 28 stated that a local authority could not (1) “promote homosexuality”, (2) “publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”, and (3) “promote the teaching…of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Then comes February 2000, when the first legislative attempt to replace Section 28 was introduced. (Now, it was defeated by a House of Lords campaign, but after much back-and-forth, Section 28 was abolished in 2003.)

Sue Sanders, Elly Barnes and Schools OUT UK chose February to commemorate when the first stone to repeal Section 28 was cast — February. Thus, the UK first celebrated LGBT History Month in February 2005, with over 150 events across the country.

So, in a nutshell: the US celebrate LGBT History Month due to its American history, while the UK celebrates LGBT History Month due to its British history.

“Shouldn’t we all celebrate it in the same month?”

Not necessarily. It makes sense for a country to celebrate their people, cultures and traditions in a way that makes sense to that country — it makes total sense for the US to celebrate #BHM in February due to the incredible history tied to this specific month…but that is American history, so it only makes sense for other countries to move it to a month that has a more personal significance to them.

Perfect example: Pride. While June was originally chosen as Pride Month in the US to commemorate the Stonewall riots (June 1969), not every US state commemorates Pride Month in June. Pride months are different country to country, and in the US they’re different State to State. This isn’t to undermine Pride celebrations in other countries/states, but it’s purely to focus on that country’s/state’s LGBTQ’s history.

“I don’t like it — why should other countries celebrate something else when I’m celebrating (insert event here)?”

Just like you celebrate (insert event here) on a certain day/week/month in a way that is deeply personal to your city/town/county/state/country, others will do the same in their own location. How other locations choose to celebrate (insert event here) should not distract you or discourage you from celebrating your own. If anything, if you fancy, take some time to educate yourself on (1) why you’re celebrating what you’re celebrating, (2) why you’re celebrating it during this period, and (3) why other locations don’t celebrate it in the same way you do.

Wanting to celebrate your own history in a way that is deeply personal to you doesn’t equate to undermining, disregarding or disrespecting the history of other countries, regardless of how and when you want to celebrate yours in a way that is personal to you.

“Ok but I’m still mad that Amnesty UK LGBTI celebrates #LGBTHM17 while I’m celebrating #BHM, and I’m not homophobic or whatever but…”

First of all, happy Black History Month to you. Secondly, that account is Amnesty UK LGBTI. It’s a branch of Amnesty International UK, which is the regional branch of AmnestyInternational. This specific UK account campaigns for human rights for LGBTI people in the UK. As such, it celebrates UK’s LGBT History Month in February. But, while we’re on the intersectional topic of black history and the LGBTQ community, here’s an article on 23 prominent black LGBT folk we should all learn about (source: The Huffington Post). 😊

I hope that settles it. If you have any questions, feel free to comment down below and I’ll get back to you. If I don’t know the answer, I’m sure Amnesty UK LTGBI can come to our aid (or, failing that, any search engine of your choice — Google, Bing, Yahoo…).

Happy #BHM to my American friends and happy #LGBTHM to my UK friends.

Updated 9th Feb.: Elly Barne wasn’t initially part of LGBTHM in the UK when it was first founded. It was Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick who started it. There’s another reason for them picking February for LGBTHM: February is a quiet month in the UK school calendar year, thus making it easier for young people to attend events and learn about LGBT heritage in the UK (source: LGBT History Month, Twitter).