Ole Miss community celebrates LGBT History Month

Posted on Oct 19 2017 - 8:01am by Rachel Ishee
Ole Miss, pride, Mississippi

Illustration by Jake Thrasher

October is LGBT History Month. The monthlong celebration observes the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues as well as the history of the gay rights and civil rights movements. The Oxford and university community is hosting events throughout the month to recognize the LGBT community.

While there are other events throughout the year that focus on the LGBT community, the organizers said they feel the month of October is ideal for university organizations to reach out to students.

“LGBTQIA+ Pride Month is in June, when school isn’t in session,” Avery Gault, a member of UM Pride Network, said. “It’s way easier to teach people about your message and history during the school year, rather than not.”

Brenna Paola, vice president of UM Pride, said several historic dates for the LGBT community fall in October, making it the perfect timing for the community’s history month.

“Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, which existed before LGBTQIA+ History Month was established in 1994,” Paola said. “There were also two marches of Washington for LGBTQ+ rights in 1979 and 1987. The common goal of these days were to fight for LGBTQ+ lifestyles to be legal, to be acceptable and to be embraced in American society.”

Although there are other months dedicated to different celebrations, such as LGBT Pride Month in June, LGBT History Month focuses on the perseverance it took for the community to achieve the rights it has today.

“LGBTQIA+ History Month recognizes the community for its long battle toward visibility and acceptance,” Paola said. “The awareness of this long-term push for equality puts into perspective just how prominent the LGBTQ+ is among all communities, despite the necessity of the closet for many.”

Gault said the many people who dedicated their lives to protecting and advancing the interests of the LGBT community deserve proper recognition.

“Many people our age take for granted the seemingly widespread support of LGTBQIA+ rights among our demographic and it’s important to remember that it hasn’t always been as mainstream an idea as it is now,” Gault said.

“LGBTQIA+”, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, is a way to ensure that everyone is included in the community. The “+” symbol represents the many other sexualities, sexes and genders that are not mentioned in these letters.

“I think that the LGBTQIA+ title has been expanding to make sure everyone who is not straight or cisgendered feels welcome in the community,” public policy major Wesley Craft, a member of the LGBT community said.

As this year’s LGBT History Month began, House Bill 1523, commonly referred to as the “religious freedom” bill, also happened to go into effect. The controversial bill gives Mississippi businesses the right to decline customers service based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” about marriage, extra-marital sexual relations and the definition of ‘gender.’

“I think it’s important to learn about queer civil rights because queer people are still so strongly affected by discrimination,” Craft said.

He said that discrimination outside of the political sphere is something that the LGBT community is forced to endure on a daily basis.

“Everyday, LGBT youth are thrown out of their homes or forced to go to conversion therapy,” he said. “Churches often humiliate and damn their LGBT members. Even gay clubs, the one place a queer person ought to feel comfortable, don’t feel quite safe anymore.”

Paola said discrimination against the LGBT community began long before HB 1523 was passed, and efforts like this October’s month of reflection help raise awareness.

“Queer history is a long series of fighting for the right to live safely and to love openly,” she said. “It is extremely important to recognize the past in order to ultimately advance in the future.”

All month long, the Sarah Isom Center is hosting lectures, movie screenings and outreach opportunities. The center is hosting a Networking Luncheon today in partnership with the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.

Undergraduate student organizations QPOC (Queer People of Color) and UM: Vote Everywhere will be hosting a discussion named “Queer at the Polls” on next Tuesday and. One of the month’s headlining events is Code Pink on Oct. 31 at Proud Larry’s, sponsored by UM Pride Network, the Sarah Isom Center and OutOxford.

While there are plenty of events taking place in Oxford, some students ventured outside the city limits to celebrate with an even larger crowd.

“The first of this month, my boyfriend and I went to Memphis to celebrate Memphis Pride,” Craft said. “We went to The Big Gay Dance Party and then joined in on the Pride Parade the next morning.”

Craft said that it is during times of celebrating diversity that he is truly happy about where he is from.

“Standing at the parade, I realized I was in one of the few moments when I can be completely proud of myself and of the South simultaneously,” Craft said.

Although these events do highlight LGBT community members, all people, regardless of sexuality, are welcome to participate.

“The purpose of all LGBTQ+ events is to celebrate the community, which is vast,” Paola said. “Anyone participating in these events (is), in the least, performing the action of being an ally to the community. The beauty of the queer community is that everyone has a place in it, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Paola said the push for this history month came from a Missouri high school teacher in 1994, and the movement has only grown. For members of the LGBT community, the month is about more than just remembering activists who fought for human rights.

“History brings validation to the queer community, even when it faces discrimination,” Paola said. “Eventually the month could bring a platform to be out and proud, which is a day to day struggle for many queer Americans whose home rejects their identity.”