We need LGBTQ history in schools because the queerness of Black icons has always been obscured
Queer Black children deserve to learn about themselves.
We’ve already been taught LGBTQ history. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t even know that we have been. We’ve already heard countless lectures about icons who happened to be queer—learned about their lives and work, read their words, recited their speeches, seen them remembered through art and poetry, and heralded them as some of the most important historical figures to ever grace this realm.
Most of us don’t know that we’ve already learned about queer people who have played a significant role in our history because their queerness has been intentionally obscured. This suppression contributes to the false belief that queer people are inherently hypersexual and obscene. This is why Lil Nas X coming out immediately led to the straights insisting that “Old Town Road,” his hit song about riding horses, must be about gay sex.
It’s also the reason behind the assumption that there is no queer history to be studied at all. Recently, when news that school systems throughout several states will begin teaching LGBTQ history reached the masses, straight people everywhere were sent into a panic. The most asinine concern seems to be the widespread conspiratorial worry that schools will now “teach kids how to be gay,” no doubt as part of the Gay Agenda™, but one of the most prominent response I’ve seen from them is: “What history?”
Anne Frank was bisexual, but the portions of her diary about her desire to be with girls was censored until the second unabridged addition was published. Alan Turing—the founder of computer science for whom the Turing Test is named—was instrumental in cracking German codes during WWII and died by suicide after being prosecuted and castrated for being gay. In Nazi concentration camps, pink triangles were used to identify gay men and black triangles for lesbians (and other “asocials”), and after the camps were liberated at the culmination of WWII they were imprisoned again for their sexuality.
Hollywood studios used to forced gay actors into straight marriages, and the “Code Authority” used to prohibit LGBTQ characters from appearing in comics. I could go on, for pages and pages, about how these truths were diminished, overshadowed, and erased. How so many queer folks were either forced to remain hidden or severely punished, discriminated against, and suppressed for simply existing.
Queer history and Black history are inherently intertwined. Not only have queer activists been inspired by tactics used by Black activists and organizers battling white supremacy—like the 1960s “Sip-ins” by gay white men which were based in part on Black organized Sit-Ins during the Civil Rights Movement—but many of the scholars, leaders, and artists that we study as part of Black history were also queer.
You know their names. Langston Hughes. Angela Davis. James Baldwin. Bayard Rustin. Alice Walker. Audre Lorde. Lorraine Hansberry. Alvin Ailey. Zora Neale Hurston. Billie Holiday. Josephine Baker. Octavia Butler. Ma Rainey. Malcolm X. And more. And more. And more. It’s a shame that historical queer Black icons so often have their queerness diminished, especially because, for many of them, their queerness has significantly informed their work.
If not for the separation of Blackness and queerness in the annals of history, the Stonewall Riots might be properly regarded as a pivotal point in Black history, with Marsha P. Johnson as a prominent leader of a resistance against state violence and the overpolicing of marginalized communities.
It’s imperative that we intentionally draw these connections and highlight them for our children so that these truths are not as hidden from them as they were from us. It’s a good thing that schools in multiple states will include LGBTQ history now, and I celebrate this as an achievement and a step in the right direction.
Even so, I know it still won’t be enough. I know much of it will probably be whitewashed. I know it probably won’t include queer folks who don’t fall under the L, the G, the B, or the T, but who are no less queer—asexual, intersex, pansexual, agender, and otherwise gender non-conforming folks who are no less affected by queerphobia, cisnormativity, and societal pressures of compulsory heteropatriarchy.
This LGBTQ curriculum probably won’t tell students about thow white colonialism destroyed parts of Black and Indigenous cultures which fully embraced and revered queerness before white violence stamped it out, because standard U.S. History lessons never tell the whole truth about white colonization and how it included the incremental genocide of Indigenous American and African peoples and culture. These are things that we will have to teach them ourselves.
Queerness has always been a part of our history as Black people, even before our ancestors were brought here, and it will be a part of our future. We should embrace the teaching of LGBTQ history alongside Black history in schools, in an environment that will normalize it and help queer Black children to feel safer and more confident about who they are. and we owe it to them to make sure that the queerness of important Black figures does not remain hidden.
“The Missing Colors of the Rainbow: Black Queer Resistance” by Elena Kiesling
The Role of Gay Men and Lesbians in the Civil Rights Movement, a lesson plan for grades 9-12
Being African American & LGBTQ: An Introduction, from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation