Remembering Queer History: The Shoulders We Stand On
Reina Ashley Nomura is a guest blogger for Pride Month! This is her submission.
In second grade, I remember seeing signs around my neighborhood about Prop 8.
I didn’t understand what it was. When I had my first crush on a girl in the sixth grade, I desperately tried to tell myself that I just wanted to be friends with her; I didn’t have the vocabulary for the word gay.
In eighth grade, I encountered my first queer community: the GSA club that my friends and I started. The only thing I really understood at this time was the incorrect myth that sexuality and religion did not intersect. I am not religious.
I didn’t know of my queer parents who had pioneered the social atmosphere to allow me to have questioned my own sexuality in the way that I did: without fear of death, arrest, or attack. I did not know of Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Gilbert Baker, Matthew Shepard or the many others.
I didn't know of the discriminatory laws that were on the books, or how thick the air of homophobia used to be in the social arena (and still often is in many places). I merely discovered my sexuality in safety, albeit a good dose of internalized homophobia and familial pressures. However, now that I am in full embrace of my identity as a queer person, I feel a sense of responsibility to go back and learn about this history that has allowed me to live my life as I am today.
Our queer history is one of many marginalized communities whose histories are not taught in classrooms or homes. While classroom lectures beginning in elementary school cover American history and children’s history books line the shelves at home, libraries, and book stores, queer people and their histories are hardly found in such institutions.
As a high school student finally becoming comfortable with my sexuality, I was constantly frustrated that I had to search for my community’s history on my own, despite spending so much of my time in a place of learning.
This blatant erasure of my community further fueled my determination to learn what I can about queer people of the past. In fact, my identity as a part of the LGBTQ+ community has been influenced by how I continued to search for facets of my history that could help me further discover myself and who others like me used to be like. I increasingly felt compelled to understand the beginnings of our movement, when who we were was a liability against ourselves.
Many of the pioneers of our movement died young. Whether it be due to a hate crime, AIDS, suicide, or other causes, they were unable to live to pass on their experiences to us. There is a glaring generation gap within the queer community that makes it much easier for queer youth to disconnect themselves from those older. Paired with the erasure of this movement in the classrooms and the difficulty in finding other resources, the disconnection becomes more deeply rooted among us. But it is possible to reconnect our community.
In the fall of 2017, California became the first state to approve K-8 textbooks with LGBT history, rejecting two that didn’t because they did not comply to the state’s 2011 Fair Education Act, which was written by former California senator, Mark Leno. A step towards bringing queer history into the classrooms and most accessible to students, this approval is the beginning of comprehensive queer education that our community has been searching for.
Furthermore, Youth in Motion, a program run by Frameline, which hosts the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, has been providing free LGBTQ films and curriculums to queer alliances and educators in schools across the nation since 2008. By bringing LGBTQ education into the classroom through media, Youth in Motion has been able to offer students access to learn about themselves and their community with their peers, as well as equip educators with the proper teaching guides to effectively create a more safe and inclusive learning environment.
Even more, many LGBTQ centers host inter-generational events that offer queer adults and youth a chance to get to know each other, learn from their differences and strengthen the queer community. The simple act of conversation opens up opportunities for connection that so often are missed.
Although it took extra digging for me to learn about queer history, I’ve gained knowledge that I am so grateful to have.
We must ensure that our history does not get forgotten, erased, or rewritten and knowing it alone is honoring those pioneers.
Until more action is taken, we must not rely on social institutions alone to teach us our own history and instead seek out those who share our desire to learn and remember. It is pertinent to keep alive the early days of our community, not only to honor the shoulders that we stand on, but to also keep moving towards full liberation because there is still so much more to do.
To learn how you can take action to make sure queer history isn't erased, go to www.historyunerased.org!