LGBTQ+ History Month

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Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, organized the first official LGBTQ+ History Month in 1994, along with fellow educators and community leaders and national LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations. In 2006, Equality Forum began facilitating LGBTQ+ History Month and they continue to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting an exemplary individual each day during the month of October. 

In creating LGBTG+ History Month, Rodney Wilson hoped to bring more awareness to the societal contributions of these individuals, whose efforts were often overlooked in their own time due to social stigma.


Early History

early history

Societal acceptance of LGBTQ+ people has varied depending on what era they were born into.  European colonizer accounts throughout the American continents describe “men who dress as women” as vital members of their community, who were often given special status roles such as spiritual guides or leaders. Although each indigenous community had their own word for transgender people, they are collectively referred to as ‘two spirit’, placing more emphasis on their spiritual essence rather than gender expression or sexuality.  

Despite the “self-evident” truths asserted by the Declaration of Independence, LGBTQ+ people in the United States have not been afforded equality by their government. The former colonies would adopt many of the same anti-LGBTQ+ policies that had been imposed by English common law, including the criminalization of same-sex intimate acts. In turn, each of the fifty states would legislate anti-LGBTQ+ policies, until Lawrence v Texas (2003) legalized same-sex intimacy nationwide.  

Regardless of legality there are many accounts of same-sex love in early America, such as Alexander Hamilton’s romantic correspondence with John Laurens’, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Henry David Thoreau’ journals.


The 20th Century

the 20th century

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s was a cultural revival for African Americans in New York City, although mainstream anthologies of that era often neglect to include that some of its most prominent figures were also members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Langston Hughes.  

Post-World War America also saw the creation of the first recognized gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, by Henry Gerber in 1924. The Society disbanded after intense police harassment but would inspire later organizations to continue its work. Concurrently with the Red Scare that sought to expose suspected communists after World War II, the “Lavender Scare” resulted in the loss of federal employment for thousands of people who were reported to be LGBTQ+ by their coworkers and supervisors. In addition to losing their livelihood, many of these individuals were also forcibly outed to their community.


Building up to Stonewall

building up to stonewall

During the 50’s and 60’s, new LGBTQ+ social and political organizations formed that fought for LGBTQ+ rights including:

  • The Mattachine Society (1950)
  • One Incorporated (1952)
  • Daughters of Bilitis (1955)
  • Janus Society (1962)

One, Inc. v. Oleson (1958) was the first United States Supreme court case to deal specifically with LGBTQ+ rights, and the first to protect LGBTQ+ free speech.  Despite some civil rights successes, harassment and mistreatment by police continued, igniting resistance at several events: 

  • Cooper Do-Nuts protest (Los Angeles, 1959)
  • Dewey’s Coffee Shop Sit-In (Philadelphia, 1965)
  • Compton Cafeteria Riot (San Francisco, 1966)
  • Black Cat Tavern protests (Los Angeles, 1967)

These protests have been largely overshadowed by the Stonewall Riots (NYC, 1969) which are regarded as a major turning point in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights but should not be forgotten as important precursors to modern LGBTQ+ rights movements.  

The uprising that occurred on June 28th, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City began as a response by militant gay street youth, a few transgender women, and a crowd of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers to the regular harassment they received by police.  The intersection of multiple geographical, social, political, and cultural factors at one bar in NYC would have lasting reverberations throughout the world, signaling the beginning of a new era of LGBTQ+ resistance and activism. 


After Stonewall
after stonewall
  • 1969 Stonewall Inn Uprising 
  • 1970 Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson co-found Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to provide shelter and food for underhoused LGBTQ+ youth and fight for transgender rights 
  • 1973 Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is founded in New York
  • 1974 Elaine Noble is the first openly gay person to be elected as a state legislator, serving on the Massachusetts State House of Representatives 
  • 1976 Jonathan Katz publishes Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., the first book to document gay history in the United States 
  • 1979 Over 100,000 people gather to support the National March of Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights 
  • 1980 The Human Rights Campaign is founded.  It will become the largest LGBTQ+ political lobbying organization in the United States
  • 1982 Wisconsin passes the first lesbian and gay civil rights bill in the U.S. prohibiting bias in housing, employment, and public services
  • 1985 The AIDS Quilt project is created by activist Cleve Jones.  Today, the Quilt includes almost 50,000 panels dedicated to over 110,000 individuals 
  • 1993 Minnesota enacts the first law protecting transgender people against discrimination
  • 2003 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy are unconstitutional in  Lawrence v. Texas 
  • 2004 Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriage
  • 2011 After 17 years of discriminating against gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members the U.S. military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed 
  • 2015 The United States Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage in all 50 states through its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges

Ready for more?

ready for more

This is just a small sample of the people and events that should be considered for LGBTQ+ History Month.  For much, much more about our diverse and vibrant community, start here: 


Gay American History, Jonathan Katz 

Black. Queer. Southern. Women., E. Patrick Johnson

Not Straight, Not White, Kevin Mumford 

A Queer History of the United States, Michael Bronski

Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, David Carter

Invisible Histories Project - Alabama


Wanda Sykes Takes Us Through the History of LGBTQ+, The Ellen Show 

The (Gay) Harlem Renaissance, TIME 

Billy Porter Gives a Brief History of Queer Political Action, them

LGBT History Month, official YouTube channel 


Making Gay History, podcast 

History is Gay, podcast 

Queer Legends, podcast

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