The LGBTQ+ History They Don’t Teach in Schools
by Sassafras Lowrey
Have you ever learned about LGBTQ+ history in school? Growing up in the 90s I never even hear the word “gay” let alone “LGBTQ+” until I helped start my high school’s first GSA. There have been significant cultural shifts since that time around visibility of LGBTQ+ people, but unfortunately in some areas around the country the experience hasn’t changed much when it comes to incorporating LGBTQ+ people and history into school curriculum. Unfortunately, in some areas of the country school districts are explicitly limiting or outlawing teaching about LGBTQ+ people in the classroom with “Don’t Say Gay” laws.
Homophobia and transphobia has always existed in schools, and now more than ever LGBTQ+ students are pushing back against administrations, to educate themselves and each other. In the spring, Will Larkins a high school junior founder and president of the Queer Student Union at Winter Park High School in Florida. As part of a class assignment, Larkins requested permission to share a lesson with the class about the Stonewall Uprising. He received permission, because Larkins later told the media that his teacher had no idea what the 1969 uprising was and its significance to the LGBTQ+ community. Larkins recorded his lesson, uploaded it to social media, and the video went viral.
WELCOME TO QUEER SUMMER SCHOOL
Unfortunately, you might not be learning a lot about LGBTQ+ history at school, but the great thing is that there’s still time this summer to educate yourself about different aspects of LGBTQ+ history. The Stonewall Riots are just one moment in community history. Other lesser-known important moments and organizing figures in LGBTQ+ history include:
1958 — Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay rights for the first time
The United States Postal Service refused to deliver “ONE: The Homosexual Magazine” (the first large gay publication in the country). The postal service claimed the magazine was obscene. ONE sued, and when the case went to the Supreme Court, they ruled in favor of the magazine.
1966 — Gay Rights Sip-In
Organized by the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBT rights groups in the United States, they staged a “Sip-In” in NYC in April 1966. At this time, gay bars were against the liquor law in New York. Organizers went into a bar, said they were gay, and ordered drinks. This direct action was part of a publicity display by the group to challenge the oppression the faced. This was a key action that ultimately led to the establishment of legal gay bars in NYC.
1966 — Compton Cafeteria Riots
In San Francisco, transgender women and other LGBTQ+ people stood up for their rights and fought against police brutality and harassment in the Tenderloin. At this time, it was legal to arrest people for “cross-dressing” on this night transgender women resisted arrest and fought back against harassment by police.
1973 — “Homosexuality” is removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The American Psychiatric Association voted to remove “homosexuality” from the group’s official list of mental illnesses. Note: It took until 2013 for “gender identity disorder” to be removed from the DSM, though many nonbinary and transgender people continue to be pathologized.
1979 — Gilbert Baker sewed the first Pride flag
Baker’s first rainbow flag had eight colors: purple representing spirit, blue representing peace, turquoise representing art and magic, green representing nature, yellow representing sun, orange representing healing, red representing life, and pink representing sex. The first flag was 60 feet wide and 30 feet high and made for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco.
Want To Learn More?
A variety of resources that you can access online (and in some cities) will allow you to learn more about the history of the LGBTQ+ community. Knowing our history, especially at a time when some state, and national government are trying to erase us, or take rights away, is an act of power and resistance. Some online exhibits and archives you can access to information about LGBTQ+ pride include:
GLBT Historical Society- Located in San Francisco but they have online exhibits you can virtually visit from anywhere!
Lesbian Herstory Archives- Located in NYC the archives has some of their collection digitized which can be viewed from anywhere.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History — Located in Washington DC but they have digitized aspects of the collection which can be viewed online.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.com