October is LGBTQ+ History Month! Ever since I discovered this awesome fact two years ago, I make sure to try my best every October to educate as many people as I possibly can. So much of LGBTQ+ history is left out of our history classes. All too often, we’re forced to find the information on our own, or just happen across it somewhere on the internet. To remedy that, I’ll be talking about three major things that I didn’t know about in detail until way too late in my life.
The Stonewall Riots
On June 28, 1969, police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. At the time, raids like these weren’t uncommon. People in these bars were often arrested, and police especially targeted anyone who was caught “cross-dressing” (trans women, drag queens, etc.). Dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex was illegal in many places. Some of these laws continued to be overturned even into the 2000’s. But when the police raided the Stonewall that night, the people fought back. They started pelting the police officers with coins and food, and eventually bottles and rocks. The police were outnumbered, and retreated back into the bar while police in tactical riot gear tried and failed to control the crowds. The riots continued for several nights, and were a large catalyst for the Gay Liberation Movement. Now every year in June, we celebrate Pride on the anniversary of the riots. I had the chance to visit Stonewall recently, where they still have the sign proclaiming “This Is A Raided Premises” framed on the wall.
The AIDS Epidemic
I had learned about the HIV virus in school during our sex ed talks on STDs. But I didn’t know what the AIDS epidemic was until much later in life. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I was introduced to the AIDS epidemic when I first saw the movie RENT, around my freshman or sophomore year of high school, and I didn’t know it was an epidemic until after that. I didn’t know that, since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1980, more than half a million people have died of AIDS related complications. I didn’t know that the government really didn’t do anything to help victims of the epidemic until straight people began to get infected. The effects of the AIDS epidemic stay with us: even now, gay and bisexual men, and many trans people, can’t donate blood unless they’ve been celibate for more than a year, even though the screening and testing that blood samples have to go through would absolutely catch any infected samples. This epidemic wiped out so much of the LGBT community, almost an entire generation of gay men are missing. It also put a large stall to the progress that had been made in favor of LGBT rights, because many people saw the AIDS epidemic as God’s punishment against gay people.
Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming. If you’ve ever heard of the Laramie Project, or the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, they arose from this incident. Matt Shepard was at a bar when two men his age offered to give him a ride home. Instead, they drove to remote location and brutally beat and tortured him before tying him to a fence and leaving him there. Six days later, on October 12, 1998, he died from his injuries in the hospital. According to the assailants’ girlfriends’, the two men pretended to be gay to get Matthew into their truck, intending to rob him, but attacked him after he put his his hand on one of their knees. The trial was covered widely across the country. At the time, crimes based on sexual orientation could not be tried as hate crimes. In the years following the attack, there were many attempts to pass hate crime legislation that included sexual orientation, but none passed until the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, over 10 years later.
There are many other things that I could include in this post, and I encourage you to look up or comment any other questions you have. I did not learn about any of these events in school until I took an LGBTQ+ Studies course, even though these events have had lasting impacts on our nation. LGBTQ+ people have been part of history for as long as history has existed, and the contributions made by these people and the importance of their lives should not go unnoticed.