It’s understood in the LGBT community and beyond that June is "Pride" month, but did you know that October is "LGBT History Month?" It’s been celebrated since 1994, but has started gaining more traction since 2006, when Equality Forum took the reins for organizing the month.
According to Equality Forum, LGBT History Month has come a long way since they assumed the responsibility for producing content, resources, and promotions for the month. Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, said that when the organization first took charge of the month, only 20 organizations were involved. In 2012, more than 1000 groups from across the country took part, including several Fortune 500 companies, colleges, and GSAs.
"It’s now a huge success, in terms of how many groups we have on board. If this was a company, everyone would want to buy a share," said Lazin.
Each day this month, Equality Forum features a different icon from the LGBT community, with this year’s picks ranging from Sally Ride to Marin Duberman. Lazin believes that this month is different from Black History Month, for example, because of how much history is unknown about the community.
"LGBT people are the only minority in the world whose history isn’t taught at home," said Lazin. "Black History Month started during a more traditional time, whereas when we took over in 2006. LGBT History Month was modeled around the use of technology to spread information, so we hope that will be an advantage for us."
But Jesse Heffernan, a millennial who coordinates the Harmony Café Program in Wisconsin and is also president of Positive Voice, said that he doesn’t see LGBT History Month being widely recognized in his state in the near future.
"We’re still trying to get marriage equality in Wisconsin and have made small victories here and there, but I think we’re a long way before LGBT history is taught in classrooms," he said. "I still have LGBT students come to my programs who are unaware of what was going on with HIV/AIDS in the early '80s, so many of these kids don’t have a strong sense of the community’s history."
Heffernan believes that part of the issue is that the community has no central figure to turn to. While there are many openly-LGBT celebrities, it isn’t clear who has the most influence.
"Is there a national leader who could step forward to help educate youth? Maybe we need someone like Ellen DeGeneres, who has support from both the straight and LGBT communities." he said.
But will awareness about this month continue to grow and become mainstream like Black History Month? There is no mandate that requires LGBT History Month be celebrated in schools, and California’s Fair Education Act is one of the lone pieces of legislation in the country that requires schools to educate students in their social studies classes about the contributions of the LGBT community. The GSA Network, which supports this law, sees this month as a necessity to increasing tolerance.
"It’s important to understand diversity and how it can contribute to our country, and this month continues to be one of the most popular things that connect GSAs from different schools together," said Jill Marcellus, communications manager for GSA Network.