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Straight and cisgender history is taught in every classroom across the country and that leaves so many people’s stories ignored or silenced. Queer history teachers are teaching a history that doesn’t represent them. While more teachers are now comfortable being openly LGBTQ+ in schools, the syllabus has not largely changed to reflect this. This means students are often left to advocate for themselves to create pride clubs and this often happens only if there are supportive LGBTQ+ staff or dedicated allies. It is important for LGBT+ people to see themselves reflected in history and for our allies to see people who are different from them, so that heterosexual, cisgendered experiences can be de-centred.
From not reporting on gender variance or sexuality of important historic figures or inventors, for example Florence Nightingale, was believed to be a lesbian, to a complete eradication of queer history from textbooks; LGBTQ+ people have never been widely celebrated. This leaves LGBTQ+ people lacking the knowledge of our rich queer history and the rights that those that came before fought for. If we do not know this history, we are not aware of the resistance that was essential for us to be able to exist as we do today and we have less belief in our own power to push towards the changes we need to see.
In addition, there are still many without those rights that we need to recognise. According to Human Dignity Trust, there are 71 jurisdictions that criminalise private and same-sex sexual activity specifically between men, 43 that specify women, 11 jurisdictions where the death penalty is imposed and 15 where gender identities/expressions of trans people are criminalised. LGBTQ+ history month gives us pause to reflect on those who are still fighting for their rights to live freely.
In 2021, the murder of trans people rose to 375. Among those, 96% of those murdered globally were trans women or trans feminine people, most were Black and migrant trans women of colour and trans sex workers. Many of the people who paved the way in resistance, such as in the infamous Stonewall Uprising, were Black and Brown trans feminine people and lesbians and these are the people still most in danger of homophobic and transphobic violence. It is incredibly important to recognise that those who are often the most marginalised even within the LGBTQ+ community have always been at the forefront of pushing for systemic changes to improve the lives of all queer people. When considering these statistics, it is crucial to acknowledge the impact of colonialism on eradicating queer and non-conforming identities, where previously such identities might have been celebrated, colonialism overwrote this history, banishing the existence of non-normative identities.
It’s not just that gender is a “social construct, it is a culturally specific, Western bourgeois social construct” - The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power: Pan-African Embodiment and Erotic Schemes of Empire - Dr Greg Thomas.
In the UK in particular, section 28, an amendment that stated a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This lead to queerness being something that was shunned and silenced. Anger was sparked when the Daily Mail reported on a local Labour council providing a school with a book about a girl who lived with her father and his partner who was a man. Increasing news coverage and moral panic was fostered around the AIDS crisis and gay and bisexual men were demonised for being the supposed primary carriers of the HIV virus.
Section 28 was only revoked in 2003 and since then we have seen a shift in cultural opinion and greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities. However, in 2021, reports of hate crimes related to gender and sexual identity (as well as racial and other marginalised identities) were on the rise. In The Transgender Issue, Shon Faye records negative media coverage on trans people from newspapers such as The Times and The BBC, who recently released a very dangerous article implying that trans women force lesbians to have sex with them. PACE recently published a statement including the UK as one of the worst countries to be a transgender person. Therefore, it is extremely clear that we have a long way to go. Knowing our history is crucial in shaping our futures, teaching us how to build otherwise, to fight the systems of oppression that work against us.
At Queer lit, we get many teachers asking for advice for supporting their LGBT+ youth, one of the best ways to do that is by educating yourself and your young people on LGBTQ+ issues and histories, to learn about how we got where we are today and what needs to be done to get us where we want to be.
Extended Reading List for LGBTQ+ History Month:
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments Saidiya Hartman
Unapologetic Charlene Carruthers
Transgender History Susan Stryker
Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983 Tim Lawrence
Alok V Menon’s book reports for further reading suggestions
Writing on Trans history and issues:
Trans Britain Christine Burns
The Transgender Issue Shon Faye
Supporting Trans People of Colour Sabah Choudrey
Trans Like Me CN Lester
Understanding Trans Health Ruth Pearce
Confessions of the Fox Jordy Rosenberg
Variations Juliet Jacques
Queer City Peter Acroyd
United Queerdom Dan Glass
Good as You Paul Flynn
Queer London Matt Houlbrook
Gentleman Jack Angela Steidele
Protest: Britain on the March Mirrorpix
Cruising Utopia José Esteban Muñoz
Towards a Gay Communism Mario Mieli
Experiments in Imagining Otherwise Lola Olufemi
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feelings Good Adrienne Maree Brown
For more: look at Queer Lit’s history section here
 There is a long history of same-gender sexual activity between women not being recognised in law, this erasure makes it no more difficult to be in sapphic relationships but it does carry over into how relationships between women and non-men are viewed even today- see queer celebrities holding hands and being described as ‘friends’. Also, even in countries where it illegal to have gay sex where relations between women are not mentioned explicitly, women are often arrested or threatened with arrest.
 In many more countries transgender people are targeted by laws that criminalise same-gender activity, homelessness and public disturbance -Human Dignity Trust
Written by Grey Marlow