LGBT History is American History

There are many forums that document American history, but few dedicate themselves to documenting LGBT history. These forums might appear as collections of literature, art, or music. However there is one website in particular, which puts all of LGBT culture together, and celebrates LGBT History Month one icon at a time.

LGBT History Month is a website that revolves around its name, which is celebrated October of every year. “LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons. Each day in October, a new LGBT Icon is featured with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.” The website also highlights historical information about the LGBT community, among the 31 icons featured during the month itself.

“Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month,” the website explains. LGBT History Month has many supporting organizations. These organizations include the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association, GLAAD, and other national organizations. The Equality Forum also began to coordinate, promote and contribute to LGBT History Month in 2006, which has since helped the website grow and share information. Equality Forum undertakes high-impact initiatives and presents the largest annual national and international LGBT civil rights summit, as well as produces documentary films for LGBT History Month.

There are many prominent figures that are featured among the 31 days in October. These icons are all members of the LGBT community. Some of the 2014 icons included Marc Jacobs, Frank Ocean, Lord Byron, and June Jordan. Evident in just four of the 31 names is the diversity of these prominent LGBT figures. From fashion designers to athletes and political leaders to poets, LGBT History Month does an incredible job highlighting the many accomplished members of the LGBT community.

The website also features ideas for students, educators, GSAs, schools and colleges as to how to appropriately celebrate LGBT History Month. This is a crucial aspect to the website because it engages the user and intends to spread the message of the vitality of LGBT history. There is also an area for users to nominate LGBT History Month Icons for the following year, which explains how the icons are chosen. These icons can all be found in the database, which features 279 icons from 2006-2014. The icons can be searched by name, or even tag, such as “Academy Award,” “Chicago,” “Politics,” “Composer,” and more.

George Chauncey, Samuel Knight Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Yale University, is featured on the website, explaining the importance of LGBT history. “LGBT History Month sends an important message to our nation’s teachers, school boards, community leaders, and youth about the vital importance of recognizing and exploring the role of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in American history.” His words resonate with any user who visits the website, because American history cannot be complete without its LGBT contributors.

The importance of LGBT history is apparent in the way LGBT History Month chooses the icons. As a young student wishing to be educated on prominent LGBT figures, there is a name that most everyone can recognize. Being able to feature icons from the 18th century to present day is crucial in showing how much music, art, literature, political progress, and more have come from members of the LGBT community. The successes of these individuals have shaped American society and history, just as much as they have shaped LGBT history. It is important to understand that without LGBT history, much of American history would not be complete.

Making an IMPACT on Sex Education

Leading the conversation in sexual education and health.

Sex education, and the lack thereof, is a highly scrutinized topic in America’s educational systems. Some school systems avoid the topic altogether, others focus on the purely biological aspect of sex, and the rest simply preach abstinence. The lack of education constitutes a curiosity among the younger generation as they search for knowledge that cannot be provided to them elsewhere. According to Gayle Rubin’s Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality, “sexually active young people are frequently incarcerated in juvenile homes, or otherwise punished for their ‘precocity.'” As the younger generation takes education into their own hands, unsafe sex is a likely result.

Aside from a lack of heterosexual sex education, homosexual sex education is practically nonexistent. Thanks to the efforts of Northwestern University, however, a program was created in order to give LGBT youth a place to seek information. The IMPACT Program seeks to “improve the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and to increase understanding of the development of sexual orientation and gender identity.” The IMPACT Program studies, in both adolescents and young adults, the resiliency, sexual health, mental health, and substance use. With their findings, IMPACT provides information about the sexual and mental well being of members of the LGBT community. Established in 2009 by Dr. David Cella, the program is housed in the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, based in the Department of Medical Social Sciences. According to IMPACT’s website, “in 2013, IMPACT began hosting the nation’s first clinical psychology internship track focused on LGBT health, to lead the way in training future leaders in culturally competent health research, education, and clinical care.” An introduction to the IMPACT Program can be watched here:

Found on the IMPACT Program’s website is a space specifically designed for all things Sexual Education related. There are videos and articles posted on IMPACT’s blog that helps provide sexual health education and information for all individuals. The IMPACT Program also has their own channel on Vimeo, a website for housing collections of videos, which features all of the videos that can be found on their blog. These blog posts and videos provide information for specific gender identities, as well as general sexual health information important for all sexually active youth to know.

There are videos designed for each facet of the LGBT spectrum. For example, there are videos for males, such as “How do you use a condom the right way?”

On a more personal note, it is astonishing to me that a video such as the one above was created by the IMPACT Program, which is intended for those of the LGBT community. This is firsthand knowledge that any sexually active male should have, in order so that he can practice safe sex. This video makes it clear that the IMPACT Program recognizes that this information, even something as seemingly simple as using a condom, is important for all males to know – not even just gay males. So, the question is posed – why isn’t this video shown in school when discussing safe sex and condoms? This video is a great example of the type of education that should be presented to all youth during sex education.

Of course, there are videos for females, as well. This “Women’s Sexual Health” video demonstrates ways to protect yourself during sex, regardless of your partner’s gender. There are also videos about HIV and AIDS Awareness, Transgender Individuals, and Oral Sex. Needless to say, there is a video for everyone.

The IMPACT Program is starting the conversation that should have already been started. Although IMPACT focuses on LGBT individuals, it makes the point of producing and sharing useful information for all sexually active individuals, regardless of gender or sexual identity. Because of the open-minded nature of the LGBT community, their sexual education program includes information for all individuals. While it might be a nightmare to some, the truth is that the LGBT community is paving the way for proper sexual education for everyone.

Andrea Gibson: Defining Gender

“Hey… are you a boy or a… oh, never mind,
can I have a push on the swing?”
– Andrea Gibson, “Swingset”

Andrea Gibson, an American poet and activist, focuses her poetry on various political and social inequalities, specifically within the LGBTQ community. She uses poetry to convey the harsh truths of LGBTQ reality, and holds nothing back while she does so. Gibson, having short hair and “boyish” style, writes frequently about gender norms and the struggle she has personally faced while growing up as an androgynous woman.

She was born in Maine in 1975, and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado. As the first winner of the Women’s World Poetry Slam, she has performed in many notable venues and has her work featured on prominent mediums. Gibson’s work has been highlighted on BBC, Air-America, C-SPAN, and Free Speech TV. In 2010, Gibson’s poetry was “read by a state representative in lieu of morning prayer at the Utah State Legislature.”
Gibson utilizes the form of free verse in her poetry. Because of this, her work intends for the audience to listen, as opposed to see. Gibson sells albums of her work on CDs. She has recorded five full-length albums of her poems, as well as published two books, which she sells on her website. Her albums include Bullets and Windchimes (2003), When the Bough Breaks (2006), Yellowbird (2009), and Flower Boy (2011). She also sells paperback editions of her work, such as Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns (2008) and The Madness Vase (2011).

She has received praise from various artists. Buddy Wakefield, an award-winning poet, has expressed admiration for Gibson’s ferocity. Wakefield said, “Andrea Gibson does not just show up to pluck your heart strings. She sticks around to tune them. If being flowed is new to you, you might want to grab a cushion. Whatever the opposite of fooling someone is, Andrea does that. Beware of the highway in her grace and the crowbar in her verse.” As Wakefield explains, Gibson manages to awaken raw emotion as she guides the audience through her own experiences, tragedies, and triumphs.

In Gibson’s poem, “Swingset,” she discusses the ways in which the students she teaches in her preschool/kindergarten class learn about and handle gender. The lyrics to the poem can be found here.

“Swingset” is found in Gibson’s book Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns. The title of the book is important to highlight the irony and even discomfort of her collection of poems. “Swingset” reveals the “tidal wave of kindergarten curiosity” Gibson faces each day as they question her gender, simply because she does not look like a traditional “girl.” With each question of “are you a boy or a girl,” Gibson gracefully accepts the inquiry, answering each child, and then continues to play on the playground, which is what is most important to the children. She teaches the children that, regardless of their question, it doesn’t quite matter what gender she is. The children, every day, are satisfied by her answer, afterwards always asking for a push on the swing.

“Dylan, you’ve been in this class for three years
and you still don’t know if I’m a boy or a girl?”
“Well then, at this point, I really don’t think it matters, do you?”
“Um…no. Can I have a push on the swing?”

The question Gibson faces each day is symbolized by the swing set, itself. While she answers the question, figuratively and literally pushing it away, it continues to come back, an action as oppressive as the social construction of gender. However, to a young child’s mind, “they don’t care” about her gender. Gibson shows here that gender is learned, molded, and constructed.

Fast forward to Gibson’s “father sitting across the table at Christmas dinner” physically unable to eat because of how distraught he is over his daughter’s short haircut. “You used to be such a pretty girl!” he claims. As children grow older, they learn the gender norms that society forces upon them, facing the possibility of becoming like Gibson’s father.

Fast forward again to the “mother at the market, sticking up her nose while pushing aside her child’s wide eyes, whispering, ‘Don’t stare, it’s rude.’” This is when Gibson shows her true understanding of the social construction of gender. She essentially scolds the mother for taking away a valuable lesson her child could have learned, simply by seeing how she’s dressed, what her hair looks like, and overall what Gibson is. Her rage is shown when she barks at the mother (in her head), saying:

“Listen, lady,
the only rude thing I see
is your paranoid, parental hand
pushing aside the best education on self
that little girl’s ever gonna get.”

Gibson effectively shows the reader how gender is socially constructed. Children learn gender, and the older generation is at fault for teaching the confinements of it, according to Gibson’s rant about the mother at the market. Gibson knows that children are the ones who our society depends upon to break these constructions. Her lesson here to the reader is to focus on the youth, because they are the ones who will grow up and determine how society ultimately treats gender.

“I start my day with twenty-eight minds
that know a hell of a lot more than you do,
and if I show up in a pink frilly dress
those kids won’t love me any more or less.”