Ah, October. Month of falling leaves and falling temperatures (hopefully), all culminating in Halloween, the High Holy Day of self-respecting and glitter loving queers everywhere.
But let’s start with a bit of a history lesson, shall we? October is also the month LGBTQs and our supportive friends celebrate National LGBT History Month. That tradition started in 1994 in the United States, thanks to teacher Rodney Wilson who proposed the idea after realizing that most history books were completely devoid of significant contributions to humanity by LGBT individuals.
Without the introduction of National LGBT History Month, we might not know of the same sex-loving tendencies of folks like Jane Addams (1860–1935), considered the “mother” of social work. Or of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), one of history’s greatest military minds. Or of Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), who helped found the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Germany to defend the rights of homosexuals. Or Billy Sipple (1941-1989), who prevented the assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. And of so, so many others.
LGBT History Month expanded to a full month of awareness after National Coming Out Day was established on to October 11, 1988. October was chosen as the target month for NCOD because the first LGB March on Washington was held in October of 1987.
It would be years before the T was added in recognition of our transgender brothers and sisters in the greater queer struggle, and thank goodness it finally was: Arguably, that trans activists currently lead the march for overall gender equality.
Sadly, horrifically, the exultation and exhilaration of Coming Out Day was smothered in 1998 with the death of Matthew Shepard. On October 6 of that year, Shepard was drinking at a bar in Laramie, Wyoming. Later that night he found himself in a pickup truck with fellow drinkers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.
Some say McKinney and Henderson were simply intent on robbing Shepard, but reacted violently when Shepard made sexual overtures toward them. Others say it was a drug deal (meth, to be specific) gone bad and had nothing to do with Shepard’s sexuality. You can read more about this theory in this issue of MONTROSE STAR’s coverage of the new book, Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, by Stephen Jimenez.
Whatever the truth is, Shepard was found beaten beyond recognition, slung up on a fence in a remote field where he had been left to die. Which he did, on October 12.
McKinney and Henderson are each currently serving two consecutive life sentences.
All three men were in their twenties. What a waste, what a waste.
Of course, thousands of LGBTs were beaten, tortured and murdered before the young, white, attractive Shepard died on that fence. But for some reason Shepard’s death was considered the last(ish) straw, a turning point for a wave of outrage that forced the United States Congress and President Barack Obama to make the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.
Yet, here we are, twenty years later, and anti-LGBTQ violence continues to rise.
In 2016, 28 hate crimes were perpetrated against LGBTQ people; in 2017, that number rose to 52, according to NewNowNext.com.
Hmmm. I wonder what happened in 2016 and 2017 that may have encouraged such an increase? What could possibly have occurred in our nation that emboldened twice as many Americans to take the lives of 52 people simply because of who those slain people loved?
This year, 21 transgender men and women have already lost their lives at the hands of violent, hateful men (as of September); most of those lost were transgender women of color.
Keep in mind, these figures do not include suicides, which is a whole other topic for a whole other column.
Grim as all these facts and figures may be, they serve as a reminder of the importance of National LGBT History Month and Coming Out Day. The more we celebrate our history, loudly and proudly, the more educated we all become. This month reminds us of how much L’s and G’s and B’s and T’s and Q’s and I’s and all the rest of our chosen identifying initials have in common with the S’s. The more of us who come out, the more of us there are to love.
Harvey Milk knew what he was talking about when he wisely said: “Gay brothers and sisters, you must come out. Come out to your parents. I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives, come out to your friends — if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”
There’s another way you can celebrate your LGBTQ-ness this month. Make sure you are registered to vote in November for those who celebrate equality.
History class is adjourned.