Why is it important we still celebrate LGBT history month?
In the UK February is recognised as LGBT history month, a time to promote positive understanding of the history of gay rights. Like Pride month, it's not just a celebration of people and culture – its a protest against hate and marginalisation. It was introduced in response to Section 28 - a ban on the 'promotion of homosexuality' in schools which was introduced in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.
Section 28 meant that a big majority of queer history was created behind closed doors and the impact of this still remains. To draw visibility and celebrate what was once suppressed or obscured, means we can use this time to honour and pay tribute to the people who earned their right to be remembered.
LGBT figures from history you need to know
There's so much important change that has been made possible because of the pioneering and heroic lives that make up LGBTQ+ history; lives that in many different ways have shown us the value of recognising, celebrating and upholding difference and diversity with equality and empowerment.
To celebrate LGBT history month we're looking back at some of the wonderful activists who made such an impact on the advancement of gay rights and contributed to all the important progress that has been achieved.
5 pioneers of LGBT history
1) Marsha P Johnson
“As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration”
Marsha P Johnson was a an African-American gay liberation activist who identified as queer and trans. She was known as a self identified drag queen, sex worker, model for Andy Warhol and served as a key figure in the 1960’s gay rights movement. She fearlessly put her own safety at risk to fight for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and played a significant role in important moments of LGBT history, including the stone wall uprising.
The P in her name stood for “pay it no mind” - a phrase she would use when questioned about her gender.
Marsha went missing in 1992 and was later found dead. Although her death was ruled as suicide, friends argued this ruling because of the regular attacks on day and trans people. In 2012 her case was reopened as a possible murder - A recent Netflix documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, celebrates Johnson’s life and investigates the mysterious circumstances of her death.
2) Sylvia Rivera
"We have to be visible, we should not be ashamed of who we are"
Sylvia Rivera, another veteran of the stone wall uprising - was a Latina-American drag queen and tireless advocate for transgender rights. After the suicide of her mother, Sylvia turned to sex work and battled with homelessness and drug addiction. She later went on to become a New York based community worker and together with Marsha P Johnson launched a charity ‘street transvestite action revolutionaries’ - which provided housing to LGBTQ homeless community of New York city.
“Sylvia’s role in gay history was that she was one of the first people to highlight that our movement needed to be more inclusive of people who did not fit in the mainstream,” - Carrie Davis.
3) Harvey Milk
"Hope will never be silent. It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual."
Harvey Milk was the first publicly gay politician, famous for his Oscar winning film ‘milk’. In 1978 Milk was assassinated, during his short time in the public office he had managed to put a ban of discrimination based on sexuality onto housing and employment - which was revolutionary. It's safe to say he served as a huge inspiration of how marginalised communities can build solidarity.
4) Brenda Howard
“The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them 'A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be'”
Brenda Howard was a bisexual activist who is otherwise known as 'the mother of pride' after being credited for beginning the first ever pride parade. With other rebels help she coordinated the 'Christopher Street Liberation Day March' - which honoured the one year anniversary of the stonewall riots. This is where todays modern concept of pride originated from.
5) April Ashley
"It was a very schizophrenic life,"
April Ashley was a well known fashion model in the 1960’s who was seen in publications as successful as vogue. In 1961 she was outed as a trans woman, the media depicted it as scandalous.
Ashley was one of the first British people to ever undergo sex reassignment, which at the time only had a 50% success rate. In 1971 her marriage was annulled, due to the fact she was still legally classed as a male. Because of this a legal precedent for transgender people was introduced in the UK. She continually fought to have her gender legally recognised her whole life.
It was only in 2004 that the gender recognition act was introduced. In 2012 she was awarded an MBE for the activism she instilled towards transgender equality.
Who are your pioneers and rebels of the LGBTQ+ community, historically and now? You can still add your contributions to the Pride of Place map here!