As the fight for equality for LGBTQ+ individuals continues in America, advocates and members of the community remember how far they’ve come, and what still needs to be done.
Rodney Wilson, a teacher from St. Louis, originally proposed the idea for a Gay and Lesbian History Month in the 1990s. He said he wouldn’t have been able to imagine the strides that have been made for LGBTQ+ rights when he first started his advocacy.
“I’ve witnessed enormous change. The thought in ‘94, when I was 29, that one day marriage equality would happen, is a thought I would never have had. That seemed like an event that might happen in 50 years,” Wilson said.
Business professor and adviser for SIUE’s Gay-Straight Alliance Robyn Berkley said 2003 was the point when real change started to come for the LGBTQ+ community.
“One of the biggest watershed events was Lawrence v. Texas, where they finally said being gay and lesbian is not something that you should be arrested for … That opened up the door,” Berkley said.
Despite the fact that substantial progress has been made for the community, there are still threats to reduce their rights. Recently, some Supreme Court justices have questioned the legitimacy of the legalization of same-sex marriage. Berkley said people need to be aware of the threats facing the community.
“Many of us feel like ‘I’m doing good now. I can get married if I want to.’ There’s still a long way to go. People can still lose their jobs because they’re gay … These issues are still a concern,” Berkley said.
Almost half of the U.S. states, 23 of the 50, have no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law.
Gay and Lesbian History month was first proposed in January of 1994, celebration of bisexuality was added just a year later. After that, the month continued to grow into something celebrated by all sexual orientations.
The event was set in October because that is the month the March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights occurred. Wilson said setting up what would become LGBTQ+ History Month was important to him because history can be empowering.
“Understanding what came before us is important. Understanding all the various social movements that brought us to the time we find ourselves in today matters, and [young people] can find themselves in history,” Wilson said. “There is a reservoir of power that can be found in the people that lived before they lived.”
On the changes he’s seen through his time in the community, Wilson said his definitions of the words “gay” and “queer” have changed.
“It used to be that the word ‘gay’ just covered the whole thing … Young people today, they say ‘queer, queer community, queer studies’ and so on. Maybe that’s a fine word, but for people of my generation that word still stings a little bit,” Wilson said.
SIUE’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion is holding events for LGBTQ+ History Month, including a screening of “Moonlight” and a Drag Show Trivia Event. CSDI Director Lindy Wagner said it’s important individuals who are not part of the community also attend the events.
“It helps them understand more about those particular identities, and also helps them get to know people who actually might identify in those ways and want to be more connected on campus as well,” Wagner said.
Students interested in participating in LGBTQ+ History Month can visit the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion’s website to learn more about the events being held.