6 LGBTQ History Makers I Wish Were in My History Textbook
Happy LGBT History Month! There are so many LGBTQ folks who have made their mark on history. Unfortunately, many of them have gone without credit. Few are mentioned in mainstream history books, and when they are, their sexuality and gender identity are often excluded.
In 2012, California became the first state to require schools to have an LGBT-inclusive social studies curriculum, which is a huge step. GLSEN research shows that for LGBTQ students, being taught LGBT-related topics is related to lower levels of LGBT-related victimization.
While we recognize this triumph for California, the other 49 states and Washington, D.C., still need to follow suit. In the meanwhile, here are six LGBTQ history makers I wish were in my history books. You can incorporate them in your school curriculum or next GSA meeting! GLSEN also has a host of other resources to include LGBTQ history in the classroom.
1. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin was a civil-rights activist and an openly gay man. In 1944, he refused to register for the draft for World War II and was jailed for 26 months. Later, he became an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Even after the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s, he continued his activism for LGBTQ people. Unfortunately, though, his presence in history is often erased.
2. Alan Turing (1912-1954)
Alan Turing was a British mathematical genius who laid the groundwork for artificial intelligence. He studied math and cryptology, and in World War II, he was a major player in breaking codes used by the Germans. He was also gay, which was illegal in England at the time, and he was charged with gross indecency when the police found out. When he died, it was ruled suicide by cyanide poisoning, but now some historians think it might have been accidental. In 2009, the British government formally apologized to Alan Turing for how they treated him.
3. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson was a transgender woman and an activist who regularly went to Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York that was often raided by police in the 60s. During a police raid on June 28, 1969, the people in the bar fought back, with Marsha at the helm, which many say sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 1970, she co-founded STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a trans rights group and a shelter for homeless trans teens. Marsha died in 1992 under mysterious circumstances, and the case is still unsolved.
4. Harvey Milk (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and was one of the first openly gay men to be elected to political office. As a young man, he served in the Navy and later got involved in the LGBTQ rights movement. One of the board members resigned from the board and then shot both Harvey Milk and the mayor. Milk’s legacy lives on, though, and in 2016, the Navy announced that a tanker ship would be named in his honor, the USNS Harvey Milk.
5. Sally Ride (1951-2012)
Sally Ride was an astronaut and astrophysicist and in 1983 was the first American woman in space with NASA. She taught at University of California-San Diego and started a company called Sally Ride Science to inspire girls to pursue science and math. She died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, and after she died, it became public that she was lesbian and had been in a long-term relationship with another woman. She has inspired many others to follow in her footsteps.
Yes, you have the power to make history as an advocate for LGBTQ students, and I hope one day to be reading in my history book about your work to make schools safe and affirming for all students.
But right now, in this historic political moment, you can add your name to the history books by pledging to support LGBTQ students with GLSEN. When you add your name, be sure to check the box to indicate that you’d like to receive policy updates, which will give you opportunities to truly make history for LGBTQ students across the country. Then, at the end of the month, GLSEN will recognize you in a special LGBT History eBook!
Drew Adams is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.