LGBTQ History Month: Looking Back and Looking Forward

By Joseph Jones


The Stonewall riots.  The assassination of Harvey Milk.  The unveiling of the AIDS Quilt. The murder of Matthew Shepard.  The Supreme Court striking down DOMA, and then three years later issuing a ruling declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.  All of these are examples of benchmarks in the history of the LGBT community; moments which symbolize the arduous fight of a group of people oppressed and discriminated against by the pious and holier than thou of society.  

For a society in which 62 percent of Americans support same sex marriage and 58 percent favoring the inclusion of Transgender service members in the military; it can be easy to forget a time in which the LGBT community faced severe instances of bigotry and violence on a daily basis. After all, less and less is flagrant intolerance showcased in the public arena; the result of the progressive wheel rolling over the tide of history.  

Even though I do my best to establish myself as a scholar of LGBTQ history, I do sometimes take for granted the rights and privileges I enjoy as white, cisgender gay male living in the United States.  I realize if I was a non-white transgender woman or if I lived in one of the 74 countries where it is illegal to be gay, or the 13 where same-sex contact is punishable by death; then I would be forced into a life of self-suppression, or if I am so brave to live my life unapologetically and open; I would be doing so at great risk to my safety.  

But, because of my privileged identity, I am able to hold my head up with pride with very little concern of judgement or hostility from others.  I have been fortunate enough to maintain the love and support from friends, family, peers, coworkers, and general members of my community.  Although initially fearful I would face alienation from these people, they all quickly alleviated my inner turmoil and after coming out I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my body.  Perhaps if I lived during the AIDS crisis, I would have been one of the 300,000 gay men estimated to have died from the disease in the United States alone; due in part to a government willing to look the other way while their own people were dying of a plague.   

The acceptance that I and others of my community are only able to bask in this golden age of tolerance are because of the commitment and sacrifices made by the founders and warriors the liberation movement for the LGBTQ community.  Marsha P.  Johnson was instrumental in being the vanguard for the escalation of the Stonewall riots; an act of rebellion which would prove to be the spark needed for kick starting the Lesbian and Gay liberation movement.  When Dan White murdered the first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, he created a martyr for the whole LGBT community and unwittingly highlighting the importance of LGBT people taking an active role in the political process.  The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, partly inspired by the murder of an openly gay young man which captured the hearts and minds of the nation, expanded a 1969 piece of legislation to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. There are many other examples of individuals and organizations whose contributions to the cause of equality for the LGBTQ community should be never be forgotten and always honored.

But, with each new victory gained, there are several more battlegrounds which need to be captured if we are to be considered equal members of society to our straight, cisgender counterparts.  In the United States, only 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity, 15 states facilitate for a gender makers change on driver’s license and 14 states and DC allowing for a changing of gender to be made on driver’s license and birth certificates, and 16 states and DC address hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Of course there are many more areas where the efforts of pro-LGBT activists must be focused on, not just in the United States but, also, in several countries in the international community as well.

Let us honor the legacy of the founders of our movement by continuing what they strived to establish; a hospitable world for the LGBTQ community where they are free to be who they are, love themselves for who they are, and openly love who they were born to love.