In 1994, Rodney Wilson, the first openly gay public-school teacher in Missouri, founded the very first Lesbian and Gay History Month. Wilson, came out to his class during a lesson on the Holocaust, stating that had he lived during this time, he likely would have been imprisoned for his sexual orientation. This ignited his passion to spotlight the history of gay and lesbian people across the United States. Wilson chose the month of October to celebrate this day because National Coming Out Day is celebrated on October 11th and the first national march for lesbian and gay rights took place in October. While it was first known as Lesbian and Gay History Month, the founding committee soon added “bisexual” to the title and today, it is now known as LGBTQ+ History Month. In 2006, Equality Forum began picking 31 LGBTQ icons from all over the world through all eras of history and highlighting one icon each day within the month.
Unlike LGBTQ Pride Month in June, where we celebrate the pride and joy of our queer community, LGBTQ History Month in October is to remind us of the battle queer members and advocates fought long before our time, and to highlight exemplary role models from the LGBTQ community. I am 28 years old, and I came out to my family at the age of 15. I was not around for the first national march for queer rights. I was not around during the Stonewall Riots. And I was only 5 years old when Matthew Shepard was murdered for his sexual orientation. But that is not to say that this history has not helped to shape my identity and my queerness. I am very much aware of the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of queer community members, allies, and advocates have fought through hell over the decades so that I can stand here today and say that “I am gay, I am proud, and I am loved.”
Not only does LGBTQ History Month focus on the trailblazers of our community, past and present, but it highlights a very important day to many queer individuals: National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated on October 11th. Such a fitting day, given that the first march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights occurred on this day back in 1979. Most will think that National Coming Out Day is to encourage our closeted queer family to “come out of the closet.” But it is so much more than that. Despite the amazing milestones the queer community has reached over the years, we are still a community that is misunderstood, mistreated, and discriminated against. And for that reason, many people continue to hide in the closet for fear of rejection and abandonment. The true essence of National Coming Out Day is the hope that once people know that they have loved ones who are queer, they are far less likely to maintain their homophobic and oppressive views.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It really is a day of empowerment for our queer friends and family to simply walk through a door as their true, beautiful, and authentic selves. I did not walk through a door when I came out. My mom came through my door. In fact, she kinda barged through it one night while I was doing homework and demanded to know what I meant when I had instant messaged my friends about “coming out.” Cue jaw to the floor and my heart in my stomach. If you don’t know my mom very well, then you can imagine her coming into the room HOT, waiting for the tea to spill. While it wasn’t the prettiest “coming out” story, it’s MY story, and it’s one that my family and I look back on now and laugh and joke about.
I mentioned the history of past LGBTQ members and how their battles and sacrifices helped to shape my queerness. But my own history and my own experiences helped shape who I am today as well. I count myself as lucky because when I came out to my family, I was met with a little confusion but overall, an overwhelming amount of love and acceptance. And I was raised Catholic if that gives any of you an idea of the expectations in my life.
In high school, I wasn’t overly “out.” Sure, my friends knew I was gay, but it wasn’t the main focus of my identity, nor has it ever been. But once I got to college and joined my school’s queer-straight alliance, I was hit with the sudden realization that my queerness was so much more than a fun fact about myself: it was a tool that I needed to use to build a safe and inclusive community at my school. The only times in my life that I have been discriminated against for my sexuality happened while I was in college. Being involved in the queer-straight alliance meant wearing my sexuality on my sleeve. I was verbally attacked in the library one day and told that I was disgusting, perverted, and should go to hell. I was asked to not attend any religious events on campus, even though I was Catholic and had been baptized by the Catholic church. And I was called derogatory names as I walked downtown, hand in hand with my partner.
Despite these unfortunate experiences, my time during college was also the first experience I ever had with social advocacy. From then, it has remained a burning passion within me ever since. I took part in initiatives to bring awareness to our transgender community, to fight the AIDS pandemic, and to defeat negative stereotypes about queer people that had been built for decades. And yes, I had a little fun along the way and participated in drag shows. I’m told I make a handsome man, so there’s that. When I look back on my time during college, sure I remember the few bad experiences I had as a gay woman but what I remember most is that for the first time in my life, my queerness was also something to celebrate, and a tool to celebrate other queer people who weren’t as lucky as I was when they came out.
Queer history is continuing to happen to this very day, this very second. But when I look back on MY history as a queer woman? My time during college as a social advocate will remain the most pivotal in my journey from coming out as a scared 15-year old, to the strong, badass empowered woman I am today.
Companies across the world are also writing their own history. For many of them, it is one that includes diversity and inclusion. Whether companies are just starting off and they have a published statement dedicated to diversity and inclusion, or they have a fully operational and effective D&I program, it just goes to show the dedication of companies to ensure that every team member feels a sense of belonging within the workplace. And I believe that Prove is rapidly becoming one of those companies. When I see how diverse Prove is and I see all of the initiatives we have taken over the past year, it makes me proud to say that I work for a company that truly values diversity. It makes me proud to know that I work for a company that sees and appreciates my identity as a queer woman.
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