Arielle Fischer, features editor
The month of October means many things to many people. For some, it is a time of reflection on the lives and legacies of Indigenous people, particularly in America. For others, it is a grim reminder of the lives we’ve lost from breast cancer, spreading awareness to help find a cure and supporting those in need. For many, it is a time of autumn festivities, filled to the brim with Halloween fun. But October also represents a more unacknowledged and misunderstood social history: LGBTQ+ History Month.
LGBTQ+ History Month is important for all people to recognize, not just individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. This month, people reflect on the hardships of the brave people who fought for their rights and equal representation. It also brings to light the groundbreaking moments that shaped queer culture into what it is today.
LISTEN Co-President, Kalista Shields, senior, reflected on LGBTQ+ History Month and the significance it holds in the modern world.
“LGBT+ history is really important because in the 80s, we lost so many of our elders,” Shields said. “ Because of the AIDS crisis, they’re not here to spread history. It’s important to acknowledge and learn our history, who came before us and what has brought us to the point we are at today. If people refuse to acknowledge the work of activists and what was done before them, they tend to forget it. If we forget, it’s hard to celebrate landmarks and grow as a community.”
Shields said that current events, such as the legalization of gay marriage in 2016, summer protests of 2020 and the Pulse Nightclub shooting changed the significance of LGBTQ+ History Month. These events helped individuals remember that people, especially those in the LGBT+ community, can survive and withstand tragedy and heartbreak. Shields said that although these events were heartwrenching, it is crucial to keep these people in our memory and recognize the hardships as a significant part of history. In LGBTQ+ history, loss is, unfortunately, an important component, but spreading the stories of those who’ve passed is what keeps the community hopeful and alive.
Remembrance, while sometimes painful, is an essential aspect of bringing individuals together and making them stronger as one. Shields gave the example of AIDS quilts, wherein every time a person died of AIDS, their friends and family would band together and make a quilt in their honor. Shields noted that AIDS quilts are just one of many parts of LGBTQ+ history that never see the light of day no matter how major of a role they played.
Shields also believes that LGBTQ+ history is not taught enough in schools and this, sometimes intentional, neglect should be amended.
“History, worldwide, is already very sanitized,” Shields said. “We don’t really learn much about real history, especially American history. When you open a history textbook, you’ll rarely see anything about things like the Trail of Tears, Native American genocide or the true horrors of slavery. It’s not just about homophobia, it’s an actual problem that the United States has with whitewashing history and neglecting fundamental parts of our past that affected everyone.”
According to Shields, there is not enough representation and understanding of LGBTQ+ history in the world. The little bits of LGBTQ+ history people learn are very US-focused, completely neglecting the triumphs and accomplishments from abroad. Shields said there needs to be much more awareness and representation, particularly in positions of authority. Too often, homosexuality can be criminalized and wrongfully sexualized, which should not be considered “the norm.”
Shields said that there are plenty of ways Berry students can get involved in LGBT-forward events and learn the history, as well as become more mindful overall.
“Attending LISTEN, Thursdays at 7:00 pm in Green 203, is a great way for people to get involved on campus,” Shields said. “Allies are allowed and welcome too. LISTEN throws lots of events people can come to, and every semester we try to do an event called ‘Q and Gay’ where allies can come ask questions and learn more about the community. Also, use proper pronouns and if you see homophobia, stand up for others, because this is a community effort. Educate yourself on LGBTQ+ history because there’s so many important historical figures who are completely washed over, especially internationally.”
Shields also commented on the changed they’d love to see in the world. “No matter your beliefs or what you think, it costs zero dollars to be respectful, so respect people’s pronouns and sexualities and keep bad thoughts to yourself,” Shields said. “Nearly 40% of LGBT people are rejected when they come out, making them feel unsafe and unloved. If we can, at Berry, because Berry is such a loving and caring community, provide that support for individuals so that the percentage goes down. The people before us were isolated by society, but we can fix it by relearning history and making everyone feel welcomed.”
Senior Abby Lackey, secretary of LISTEN, also reflected on the importance of LGBTQ+ History Month, along with the changes she would like to see in the contemporary world regarding equal rights.
“Something I believe that’s really important is, a lot of people, even in the LGBT community, forget our roots,” Lackey said. “For example, think of Pride parades. People think Pride is just celebrations and parties, but it started out as a riot against police brutality, started by transgender women of color. So many people forget about this and don’t recognize how we started, but we need to acknowledge how we got the rights we have today.”
Lackey said that people who are not active members or allies of the LGBTQ+ community need to respect the history of the community. In America, gay marriage was legalized in 2015, which was only six years ago, and much of the country hasn’t respected this notion yet. Lackey mentioned that even now, years later, people are still being persecuted for simply existing and loving people outside of the expected social norm.
On Berry’s campus, people tend to brush the community off, regardless of several students being shown hate and active harassment for being LGBTQ+, according to Lackey. Lackey views a college campus as a safe place for learning and growing, but with both verbal and physical violence against certain individuals, it is impossible to live up to the standards representatives set in motion.
“A lot of events in the past few years made the significance of LGBT History Month so much more important,” Lackey said. “The Pulse Nightclub shooting, at the time, was the deadliest mass shooting in America. It was a hate crime, not just a random shooting, in what we thought to be a safe space. Even worse, there aren’t a lot of safe spaces, too many of them are infiltrated, and too many people are murdered just for existing.”
Lackey said that when people are killed for simply existing, the importance of their history is dramatically increased. Lackey also said that COVID-19 held some negative impact on the LGBT community. Many individuals were forced to stay home with people that did not love them or make home a safe environment for them. It is these current events that force people to see the struggles of the community and acknowledge that people, not just LGBTQ+ folks, are still fighting for rights.
Lackey also commented on why she believes LGBTQ+ history is not taught in schools. “Unfortunately, a lot of people automatically associate being part of the LGBT community with something sexual, which it’s not,” Lackey said. “Just like a straight relationship is not inherently sexual, neither is a gay relationship. People have this false idea that being LGBT has something to do with inherent sexual behaviors, and I think that’s why people are afraid to teach it. Also, people have this false idea that they think educating kids about LGBT is going to turn them LGBT, which is a ridiculous ideology. All we’re trying to do is educate people on something important, and to make those who are questioning their sexuality or gender feel seen and acknowledged. It’s incredibly damaging to grow up thinking the group you’re a part of is wrongful and bad, when really they’re just swept under the rug.”
Lackey noted that there is not nearly enough representation, especially in the local community, as there should be. Today, Lackey believes that in schools everywhere, students feel cast out and violated in an environment made for learning and enjoyment. Even more so, LGBTQ+ individuals are still denied jobs for their identity, couples are denied wedding cakes and venues, all due to who they are and who they love. Innocent people are being denied simple things purely because they exist. Lackey noted that the only possible reason for this denial is hatred in the hearts of the oppressors, who refuse to educate themselves on people outside of their own beliefs and culture.
“You don’t have to be LGBT to visit LISTEN, we welcome all people who want to be support systems for our members,” Lackey said. “If people feel nervous about coming, they should know we keep everything behind closed doors to make everyone comfortable in a safe space.”
Compared to other social histories, LGBTQ+ history is arguably one of the most forgotten pasts to exist on Earth, yet it has impacted the lives of millions of people. Today, because of the Stonewall riots, countless marches and fights for equality, the world is making strides in becoming more accepting of the queer community.
Throughout history, LGBTQ+ folks have expressed accounts of being alienated and misunderstood as people others should reprimand and avoid. Although drastic changes have been made and some rights have been distributed, both Shields and Lackey mentioned that modern society still has a long way to go in order to grant LGBTQ+ members the equality and representation they deserve. Despite common belief, the LISTEN executives insist that the LGBTQ+ community is not a place of anti-heterosexuality and hate, it is a place of love and acceptance for all. Building a safer, stronger