From Silence to Celebration: The Birth of LGBTQ History Month

Published on October 11, 2023

This story originally appeared in October 2022 on LGBTQ Nation, written by Molly Sprayregen.

What is LGBTQ History Month?

LGBTQ History Month is celebrated both nationally and internationally and has become a crucial tool in ensuring that queer history is shared, taught, and celebrated, as it is rarely included in school curricula.

Thus, LGBTQ students are often unaware of the fact that many figures they study in school were in fact LGBTQ. They also miss out on learning about the LGBTQ rights movement and the many figures who have fought heroically for LGBTQ equality.

Created by Rodney Wilson, LGBTQ History Month is a way to encourage schools, media, and other institutions devoted to sharing knowledge to amplify the important stories of the LGBTQ community.

Who is Rodney Wilson?

In 1994, Missouri high school history teacher Rodney Wilson came out to his students during a lesson on the Holocaust. Wilson explained to his students that had he been in Germany during World War II, he would likely have been imprisoned and killed under the Third Reich.

Following the lesson, Wilson realized he wanted to give students better access to LGBTQ history as well as more role models with whom they could identify. He established a planning committee with LGBTQ leaders from around the country, and from there, Gay and Lesbian History Month was born.

He established a planning committee with LGBTQ leaders from around the country, and from there, Gay and Lesbian History Month was born.

The group selected October for what would ultimately become LGBTQ History Month because school would be in session. October is also when we celebrate National Coming Out Day (on the 11). The two LGBTQ marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987 also took place in October.

After its founding, organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, GLAAD, and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Gay and Lesbian History Month, and in 1995, the National Education Association passed a resolution officially recognizing it as a commemorative month.

In 2006, the civil rights organization Equality Forum became the official organizer and promoter of the month. Each year, Equality Forum selects 31 icons to honor, one for each day.

“LGBT history gave me self-confidence as a gay person and strengthened my resolve to live, as best I could, an honest, open and integrated life.”

Rodney Wilson

When is LGBTQ History Month Celebrated?

In the United States, LGBTQ History Month is celebrated every October. Canada and Australia also celebrate it this month. It is also recognized in the United Kingdom (in February), Hungary (in February), Finland (in November), and Berlin (in June). And this past year in May, Cuba became the first country in Latin America to celebrate it. Italy also celebrated its first one this year in April 2022.

How to Celebrate LGBTQ History Month

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month can take many forms, including:

  • Visit Equality Forum’s website dedicated to honoring queer icons and search their database of almost 500 LGBTQ people who have made history.
  • Help spread awareness and share stories on your social media pages that celebrate LGBTQ role models.
  • Find out if LGBTQ history is taught in your local public schools, and if not, advocate for change.
  • Make a donation to a worthy LGBTQ cause.

Iconic Queer Figures to Honor

There are endless LGBTQ figures to honor this month, but here a few icons to start with: 

  • Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech took place
  • Angela Davis, a radical political activist
  • James Beard, a closeted chef who was once as famous for American cooking as Julia Child was for French cuisine
  • Harvey Milk,  famed out activist who became one of America’s first gay elected officials and was assassinated
  • Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, trans rights activists who helped start the Stonewall Uprising
  • Lorraine Hansberry, award winning playwright and author of  A Raisin in the Sun
  • Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut in space
  • Marlon Riggs, award-winning filmmaker, educator, poet, and activist

LGBTQ people continue to make history, which is why LGBTQ Nation honors modern-day heroes every year.