In 1994, a 29-year-old high school social studies teacher in St. Louis, Missouri, named Rodney Wilson did something remarkable. After teaching a lesson about the Holocaust, Wilson came out to his class by telling them the Nazis could have killed him too for being gay. He then did something even more remarkable; he proposed that a month be devoted to Gay and Lesbian history.
Wilson recalled his motivation for making the proposal in a 2013 interview with Colin Murphy, “I believe it’s important to know one’s history – personal, family, local, state, national, species – including the history of people like oneself. As an undergraduate and as a budding history teacher at Mehlville High School, I was inspired by Carter G. Woodson, who founded Negro History Week in 1926. When I typed up the proposal that October 1994 be declared the first-ever LGBT History Month, I hoped to do for the LGBT community what Woodson had done for African-Americans, which was to make LGBT history more accessible.”
The idea for a Gay and Lesbian History Month (now LGBT History Month) was quickly endorsed by a number of national LGBT organizations including GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as well as by the National Education Association. President Bill Clinton declared June 2000 “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.” Nine years later President Barack Obama declared June 2009 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.
In 2006, LGBT History Month came under the charge of the Equality Forum, an international LGBT rights advocacy group. The group’s website, www.lgbthistorymonth.com/, features 31 LGBT icons (one for each day of the month) in short biographical videos. The site also contains graphics, posters, and ideas for celebrating LGBT history.
Last year Governor Jerry Brown of California signed historic legislation that mandates the teaching of LGBT history in California schools. California is the only state to enact such legislation.
Why October? Wilson thought October would be good because October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Also, the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights occurred in October.
The New Orleans City Council recently acknowledged October as National LGBT History Month by hearing a presentation on New Orleans’ queer history and passing a resolution honoring that history.
One organization that is trying to preserve and share our collective history is the recently formed LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. The mission of the Project is to promote and encourage the protection and preservation of materials that chronicle the culture and history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community in Louisiana.
The Archives Project purposes include: educating the community on the importance of ensuring that LGBT+ historical materials are archived and made available for future generations to access, research, & study; promoting the proper maintenance and preservation of historical LGBT+ materials; providing an informational directory of archival resources where LGBT+ historical materials may be deposited or accessed for research and study; indexing, publishing, and maintaining a current list of locations of archived historical LGBT+ materials; developing financial resources to assist in the preservation and availability of certain LGBT+ collections. To learn more about the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, please visit https://www.lgbtarchiveslouisiana.org/