The importance of teaching gay history

26 Dec

The importance of teaching gay history is that while it may deal with people or some topics which make some people uncomfortable it is still history and an important part of societal and cultural development. Over the past forty years or so which has marked the modern gay rights movement, one of the things which has always been seen as stumbling block toward wider recognition in regards to equality is bad information about the gay community. Teaching gay history as appropriate alongside the other topics of an era is a perfect and logical way to end the cycle of erroneous information.

What tends to make people uncomfortable about this is that they see it as a part of some wider or perhaps malevolent agenda, when in reality it simply presenting what happened in real life and allowing students to draw their own conclusions. The concept is hardly new as it can be seen in America alone that when we travel back in time topics which had been deemed inappropriate or unimportant later became a part of the regular curriculum taught in school. At one time the achievements of women were not seen as important enough to talk about. By the time they became a part of the curriculum, it was evident that people of color including native Americans had been left out. As time rolled on we saw that people who belonged to certain groups not in vogue had been overlooked or in some cases removed as revisionist history became the norm. In modern times significant achievements of many LGBT persons have likewise been overlooked or ignored.

Teaching gay history is not about setting aside a full month to examine only that topic, although October has been officially designated for that in the U.S., but it is about admitting that LGBT persons have contributed to the development of the world and been significant figures in history, and that history need not be revised to hide this. There is no logical reason why it cannot be included that Alexander the Great was gay, or at least bisexual, or that Elanor Roosevelt was a bisexual woman as well. Imagine the world without what either of them accomplished? How would history be different without them? Why not make mention of a man like Harvey Milk whom was the first openly gay candidate to run and be elected to major U.S. political office? Why discuss the 1960’s and all the riots that occurred and helped fan the flames of the cultural revolution in the U.S., but then omit the Stonewall Riots (Rebellion) which happened in New York City and spawned an international movement that is living and breathing this very day? The simple answer is because so few people want to admit that gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and drag queens did anything of significance.

This thinking is generally due to the fact that in the minds of many people making the decisions as to what is or is not important enough to teach, showing that an LGBT person made positive contributions to society would be akin to endorsing homosexuality or gender variance which is something that makes them uncomfortable. Recall again that at one point brilliant men like George Washington Carver received little or no credit for the accomplishments they attained until societal attitudes changed and the truth could no longer be denied. Compare that to what is now happening regarding important LGBT persons, and the parallels can be clearly seen.

It is further important to teach gay history alongside the rest of what is taught so that mistakes and injustices made in the past won’t be repeated again. The probability is that at some point in the future whether any of us currently alive will survive long enough to see it, LGBT persons will be legally recognized as equals alongside heterosexual persons. That however does not mean there will not be a group of people whom are not being treated equitably. By presenting school aged children with more accurate information of the world that preceded them as well as the world that they live in they can they make wise and just choices regarding the way they play a part in the future development of society as every single person has a voice and the ability to change at least their own small corner of the world for the better or worse.

While today we have become aware of the inequitable and horrific treatment of many people that came before us causing us to shake our heads and wonder why or how that could have ever happened, even today we have some of those same issues existing regarding the LGBT community and few people are aware they currently do or ever did exist. How often has any student ever been told of the manner in which LGBT persons were rounded up and sent to death camps right alongside the Jews and every other group deemed “impure” to die in the gas chambers?

Many times over the similarities of marriage laws in the gay community have been compared to those for people of color which until the 1960’s forbid mixed race marriages. People recall or have been taught about the time when people of color couldn’t eat
in certain establishments, but they don’t realize that it was only until some 25 years ago that the last vestiges of a somewhat similar law were finally wiped away regarding the gay community. Ask yourself, and be honest, were you aware that in recent American history it was illegal to serve a drink to a table which contained two or more gay people and could actually lead to the suspension or revocation of an establishments operating and/or liquor license? Sure the measure may not have been widely enforced since the late 60’s, but it was still there and was still used in some areas to deny gay persons service.

Examples of LGBT persons that have positively impacted the world as individuals and as a whole could stretch on and on, surprising many who would read them. Why they cannot be recognized without recognizing they were or are an LGBT person is a sad commentary on society. Young LGBT persons need role models they can identify to and pattern their lives after the same as any other child. To deny presenting these people, even in small doses, is a disservice to them. Imagine the African American denied being taught about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Indian who never learned of Gandhi, or the student unable to learn about Thomas Jefferson because he made the poor choice of owning slaves. Including gay history in the curriculum does not mean every LGBT person is presented as a saint, but rather just as human that happened to be gay and did something which is worth learning about.

The saying is that you cannot move forward without looking back. For young gay people they cannot be expected to appreciate all the freedoms, even if limited, that they now enjoy without looking back. For some heterosexual people they too should know these things and the contributions to the world they enjoy today like the microchip which was progressed early on by a transsexual person, and use that knowledge to understand that different does not mean inferior. LGBT persons are and always will be a part of the world, they and their achievements should not be forgotten.

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