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"What LGBTQ+ History Month means to me": conversations with young queer individuals

Unfortunately, even in 2022 news reports show that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is still rife in our world, through countless homophobic attacks and laws that deny members of the LGBTQ+ community their right to live and love in peace. We have come such a long way, but despite the strides we have made to improve our society, there is still so much more to be done to support all the colours of the rainbow. In at least 7 countries, the death penalty is the maximum punishment for same-sex relations. In over 20 countries, the punishment can be up to 10 years. When it comes to non-binary people and different forms of gender expression, social stigma can be a massive obstacle, and this rings true in countries all over the world. There is no doubt that life as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can be difficult, no matter where you are in the world.

February is LGBTQ+ History Month, during which the world remembers all the individuals, communities, and nations that have worked to establish and promote LGBTQ+ rights. No one is perfect, but our generation is continuing the fight against anti-LGBTQ+ stigmas and legislation. It’s important to recognise all the hard work and suffering that has led us to get to where we are today. With this in mind, we sat down with a few Gen-Z individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ to see what they thought about LGBTQ+ History Month. Here are their thoughts...

Some people dislike the idea of celebrating LBGTQ+ History one month a year, whereas others believe it is a positive move. What is your overall view on LGBTQ+ History Month?

Connor, 21, Liverpool: LGBT History Month is like going to mass only once a week for a refresher. I also don’t think it’s just about celebrating LGBT+ lives, it’s about education. For that reason I think it’s incredibly important, because a lot of the fear and shame comes from ignorance, which seems like this mysterious and scary thing. Once you realise that gayness has been with us since the dawn of time, that it’s as natural as anything, that trans people find the same stuff funny as you, then everything gets better.

Nick, 21, Philadelphia: I think it’s a good thing, in general, to celebrate LGBT history, but I also don’t think it’s necessary, or frankly productive, to relegate it to one month. Along with other dedicated history months, I think they should be incorporated not only into our curriculums, but into the overall societal discussion on history. I think the real goal, at least in my mind, would be a time where we don’t need a specific month, but where the accomplishments of members of the LGBT community and our achievements as a community are talked about and recognized on the same level as non-queer milestones.

Amy, 21, Glasgow: For me personally, queer history is something we can all learn from and celebrate year round. While it is good to have an official month honouring it, it’s by no means something which should be confined to one month of the year!

Name one LGBTQ+ public figure who has created a widespread impact or has had a personal influence on you?

Gerard Manley Hopkins | Source: Wikipedia

Connor, 21: Gerard Manley Hopkins, for sure. He was a gay Catholic poet and priest in the late 19th century who was never able to come out, but who was able to find insane amounts of joy and self-expression in poetry. He’s a testament, I think, to how important art is to marginalized people, but also to the fact that our history isn’t just about pain.

Harvey Milk | Source: Bettmann Archive, Getty Images

Nick, 21: I really admire Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay elected official in California, and one of the first in American history, who was also assassinated. I think today a lot of people don’t realise how much courage it took to stand up for even just gay rights not that long ago. What’s more, I think his example, and that of people like him, kind of serve as an example that gaining rights is a struggle, and even though being gay is widely accepted in our society today, and it’s even kind of popular to support gay and LGBT rights, there are gay and queer people all over the world who are struggling just to exist. I think by remembering the struggles of people early on in the fight for rights we can step back and see how far we’ve come, and appreciate our privilege compared to a massive portion of countries where just being gay is still illegal.

Amy, 21: Mark Ashton, who co-founded LGSM (Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners) to support striking miners and their families in the 80s. He was such an important figure in LGBTQ+ rights in Britain and I think we can all learn so much from his views on community and solidarity.

What advances in LGBTQ+ rights are you most happy about? Are there any changes that you think still need to be made?

Connor, 21: I’m thrilled about gay marriage being legal, but so much needs to be done, especially with queer sex education classes in high schools because the community can be so hypersexualised and pretty dangerous. And we need way more protection of trans people’s physical and mental health, particularly regarding getting hormones, gender confirming surgery, counseling etc.

Nick, 21: I’m extremely happy about the major advancements in societal acceptance that’s happened, however we still have a long way to go. I think one thing I’m not thrilled about is the kind of categorisation and stereotypes that have evolved along with the major societal acceptance. Whenever I tell somebody I’m gay, their behaviour towards me changes into more stereotypical and cliché portrayals of gay behavior, like “ok queen”, or “yass slay”, those kinds of things. Even though that’s not the worst thing to hear, it does kind of bother me that people automatically assume that this facet of me is my whole personality, instead of actually getting to know me like anybody else who’s not gay.

Amy, 21: I think it’s vital that we do more to protect trans rights in the UK, as well as reducing the stigma around HIV and AIDS which is very present to this day. In both cases, I believe education to be key.

As is mentioned in these interviews, dedicating a month to a cause or a marginalised group can be problematic. It may seem like the world is concentrating all their efforts and attention for one short period in the year. This does not take away from all the amazing things people have achieved in the month of February as well as all year round. We are often extremely concerned with all the change that needs to happen that we forget to step back and see how much change we have already accomplished. However, the fight is far from over and support for the LGBTQ+ community is only going to grow in numbers and strength. In the meantime, as our interviewees have highlighted, education is key. Ignorance is far more dangerous than it may seem and we must all make an active effort to continuously learn about each other and each other's history.

If you feel like you're struggling with your sexual orientation, gender identity or sexuality in general, here are a few organisations you can check out for personal support:

The Proud Trust is an organisation that specifically reaches out to teenagers and young adults who may have a hard time discovering or handling their identity. There is an online web chat available on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12pm and 6pm.

Mermaids UK is an organisation that advises and supports young people who are struggling with their assigned gender identity. They provide legal advice and advice for parents of children struggling with their gender identity.

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