LGBTQ+ History: Been Here, Been Queer

By Emmie Saux (they/them), STAR Medical Advocate, New Orleans

Since 1994, we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month in October. The founder selected October to commemorate the first two marches on Washington for LGBT+ rights and to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which is on October 11th. As so many individuals are taking to the streets to demonstrate, it is a fitting time to remember our history and the queer people who have contributed to our movement for liberation. 

So who is part of the queer community? Basically, anyone who is not heterosexual (exclusively attracted to people of the opposite sex) and/or cisgender (people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) are part of this community. It is difficult to include every queer person in a single acronym, but my favorite to use is LGBTQQIA2-S, which means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and Two Spirit. Many of these terms may be familiar, but to broadly define each–lesbians are women attracted to women, gay men are men attracted to men, bisexual people are attracted to people of more than one gender, transgender people identify with a gender that is not the same as their sex assigned at birth, queer can be used to talk about this whole community and as an identity for someone who is not heterosexual and/or cisgender, questioning includes people who are figuring out their sexuality and/or gender, intersex people do not fit into the binary biological definitions of “male” or “female” sex, asexual people do not experience sexual or romantic attraction to others, and two spirit is a broad term used by people who are not Native Americans to describe many sexual and gender identities present in Indigenous tribes. Each of these definitions are fairly broad, and identity can be fluid! For example, a nonbinary person (someone who does not feel like they are a man or a woman) might identify as a lesbian. 

While much of the vocabulary around the queer community is new, queer people have always existed. The earliest written evidence of queer identities comes from Sappho’s poems in the late 3rd century BC. Fun fact – Sapphos hails from the island of Lesbos, which is where we get the term lesbian! Unfortunately, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of hatred toward queer folx have existed for as long as queer people have. Queer people have faced incarceration, hospitalization in mental health/illness asylums, capture and execution by Nazis in WWII, persecution by religious institutions, limitations (and straight denial) on our rights, as well as other forms of injustice throughout history and today. 

Queer oppression can easily manifest as violence. Queer people face higher rates of sexual and interpersonal violence than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. The highest rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence occur against bisexual women and transgender people, with 46% of bisexual women experiencing rape in their lifetime and 47% of transgender people experiencing sexual assault. These numbers are in stark contrast to 17% of straight cis women experiencing rape and 21% of straight cis men experiencing sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes. Black Trans Women are especially vulnerable to fatal violence and have a life expectancy of only 35 years of age. 

Despite all of these challenges, we have many queer ancestors and present-day icons who have fought for rights for our community (Marsha P Johnson, Silvia Rivera, Edie Windsor, Harvey Milk, Jim Obergefell…) . In this century, LGBTQ+ people across the US have gained legal protections for their sex lives (2003), marriage equality (2015), and the ability to adopt children (2017). Alan Turing, who was convicted and sterilized for being in a gay relationship, is considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. His contributions in WWII helped to save as many as 14 million lives.

LGBT+ History Month gives queer people an opportunity outside of Pride Month to celebrate the many contributions of LGBTQQIA2-S people throughout history. In fact, you have a queer person to thank for being able to read this blog post!! 

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