When you think about the LGBTQ+ community, the first month that comes to mind is probably June – Pride Month. But October also marks a time for important LGBTQ+ celebrations – October is LGBTQ+ History Month!
Back in 1994, Rodney Wilson, the first openly gay history teacher at a public Missouri high school, realized that students weren’t learning about the history of LGBTQ+ people or the LGBTQ+ rights movement. When notable LGBTQ+ people were mentioned, their sexuality was often ignored. The result: few people understand just how deeply woven through history LGBTQ+ individuals are and the important marks they have left. To help change that, Wilson started what was then called Lesbian and Gay History Month and served as the founder on the first coordinating committee. The next year, it was officially added to the list of commemorative months in a resolution by the General Assembly of the National Education Association.
LGBTQ+ History Month has garnered more attention in the United States over the years and in 2012 was officially celebrated in two American school districts: Broward County in Florida and Los Angeles, California. LGBTQ+ History Month is also celebrated in October in Canada and Australia. In Hungary and the UK, it’s celebrated in February; and in Berlin, it’s celebrated in May. Anywhere it’s celebrated, the purpose is to encourage learning about LGBTQ+ history to encourage honesty and openness about being LGBTQ+.
Wilson intentionally chose October for LGBTQ+ History Month for several reasons. Even though most people think of the Stonewall Riots in June when they think of LGBTQ+ history, some other important historical events took place in October. The first and second Marches on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place in October 1979 and 1987. These marches aimed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military, federal jobs, and family protection laws. While these goals have only recently been achieved, the marches successfully established a large network of members across the country, unifying the community around common priorities, and forced the country to realize how many LGBTQ+ people and allies are in the US.
There is also another fitting LGBTQ+ holiday in October: National Coming Out Day. Celebrated on October 11, on the same day as the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, National Coming Out Day was originally started by Rob Eichberg and John O’Leary. They believed that it was crucial for members of the LGBTQ+ community to ‘come out’ because not only did it show how many people identify as LGBTQ+, but it also showed that most people already know someone in the LGBTQ+ community. And people who know someone who is LGBTQ+ are far more likely to support equality for LGBTQ+ people.
So while there might not be a big rainbow parade in your city for LGBTQ+ History Month, there are still a lot of ways to celebrate! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Learn about LGBTQ+ History!
- Every year, the Equality Forum selects 31 LGBTQ+ icons from all over the world, throughout history, and highlights one a day throughout October. You can check out their list here. The HRC also honors people who helped pave the way for LGBTQ+ rights – you can check out their 2020 article here.
- When you’re scrolling through your favorite streaming service trying to decide what to watch, check out stories about real LGBTQ+ people and historical events. Some great documentaries include Disclosure (Netflix), A Secret Love (Netflix), Paris Is Burning (Amazon), The Celluloid Closet (Amazon), The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix), Transhood (HBO Max), and PRIDE (Hulu). If you prefer dramas, here are some based on true LGBTQ+ stories: Milk (Peacock), The Imitation Game (YouTube/Amazon), Freeheld (Peacock), Bohemian Rhapsody (Hulu), Rocketman (Amazon/Paramount+), The Danish Girl (Netflix), and Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (HBO Max).
- Share what you learn! Kids still don’t learn enough about LGBTQ+ history in schools. In some states, parents are required to be notified if there are any LGBTQ+-inclusive curricula and are allowed to opt their child out of learning it. In others, it’s actually illegal to have any discussion of LGBTQ+ identities or sexualities in the school curriculum. Share what you learn with your kids, family, and friends to help spread accurate information and let them know it’s okay to talk to you about the LGBTQ+ community.
- Celebrate National Coming Out Day (October 11th) – Coming out isn’t the only way to celebrate. Share your support for people who come out (either public figures or people in your personal life). Even today, coming out can be scary for some people as they may be risking the loss of relationships, family support, financial support, or their jobs. Supporting and celebrating out LGBTQ+ people will help any LGBTQ+ people in your personal life know that you’re a safe person to come out to.
- Celebrate International Pronouns Day (October 17th) – consider sharing your gender pronouns. Many people, both in the LGBTQ+ community and allies, have begun to share their pronouns through their email signatures and on social media profiles. Sharing your pronouns and being open to conversations around gender and identity help normalize these discussions and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all. Learn more about best practices for sharing and using pronouns here.
- Celebrate LGBTQ+ Spirit Day (October 21st) – On the third Thursday in October, wear purple in support of LGBTQ+ youth. You may also see brands changing their logos to purple and sharing information and resources to help spread awareness. LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be bullied and harassed because of their identities. This day was started to show support for LGBTQ+ youth as a response to a series of bullying-related suicides of gay students like Tyler Clementi. Learn more about the bullying & harassment LGBTQ+ youth face every day and how you can show support here.
Supporting the LGBTQ+ community is about more than putting a rainbow on your products and tweeting about Pride in June. As with any multicultural cohort, showing genuine respect and understanding their struggles and achievements is essential for resonating with the LGBTQ+ community authentically. Take the effort to learn about their history and help encourage others to do so. You’ll come away with a greater appreciation for the LGBTQ+ community.