LGBTQ+ History Month – where are the queer women?

This month LGBT history month enters into adult and celebrates it’s 21st birthday. Once again social media is gearing up for raising awareness: #LGBTHistoryMonth is trending on Twitter, Facebook have over 70,000 likes on their History page and YouTube have their Equality Forum. All of this is great and has got people thinking about their LGBTQ+ Hero (myself included).

I sat down earlier this week to tweet about my hero when I realised that I didn’t actually know the famous lesbians of history.  In fact, besides Ellen Degeneres, I’m not sure that I know anything about the line of lesbians that came before her.  This really freaked me out and I started Googling to see which famous female queer activists predate the 90’s. I found myself scrawling through Wikipedia, checking and rechecking the list they had complied, and one thing really shocked me. Only a handful of these activist were lesbians.

This then turned into me spiralling out of control on an internet expedition to uncover a lesbian historical past. It was through researching that I learned about: Radclyffe Hall (author of the heart-breaking book The Well of Loneliness), Gladys Bentley (African-American blues singer), and Ethel Smyth (composer and suffragette).   These amazing women ignored social conventions that demonised or downright refused to believe in lesbian as a sexual orientation. My ignorance of these women and their stories shocked and upset me. Why didn’t I know more about a history that is very deeply connected to my present? 

Back in 2012, Stonewall’s School Report revealed that half of young people do not get taught about queer issues in school, even during LGBT History Month. That fact reflected my own experiences too. There was no teacher who discussed the queers of history in any of my classes. We didn’t have an awareness week that bought these issues to the foreground. I was in high school 7 years go and still things haven’t changed. I’m not completely blaming the education system for my lack of knowledge around the history of queer women, I could have attempted to find this information out for myself. However, it is undeniable that more needs to be done to convey this very real past in today’s schools. Half of young people is far too high a statistic for a country whose government pushed through same-sex marriage two years later in 2014.

By not embedding the queer past into a School’s curriculum, we refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of homosexuality as a sexual orientation. By sidelining this history we deny queer youth the opportunity to find themselves and identify with sexual orientations that have existed for hundreds of years. This questions the authority of homosexuality as an integral part of the human race and perpetuates a myth that queer people don’t belong in this world: they don’t exist in history therefore they are not real today. More needs to be done by individual teachers, Schools, Council’s and Government to ensure that future LGBTQ+ people are exposed to their history. By doing so we will allow people to identify with something that isn’t perverse or wrong, but is, in actual fact, an intrinsic part of human nature.

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