It seems like the month of June is a time to wield rainbows and celebrate the LGBTQ community, but every other month out of the year the LGBTQ community is shrouded in darkness, with its struggles and history erased. I didn’t learn about the Stonewall riots until I was a sophomore in college, taking a diverse history course at the prompting of my girlfriend. Some words she used were “inspiring” and “eye-opening.” Up until then, it seemed like my entire history curriculum focused on dinosaurs, World War II, and the Watergate scandal. I was an out member of the LGBTQ community at the time and didn’t know the history of my own community. I didn’t even think that history existed.
I first learned of the book Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager from a promotional tweet on my ever-shifting newsfeed. The single sentence “The first LGBTQ history book for young adults” made me pause. Though I have long since phased out of being able to call myself a teen, I needed to get this book if only to learn what my younger self didn’t even to look for. Like many topics considered controversial in history, LGBTQ history is glossed over, usually focused on discussing the AIDS crisis and how it mostly impacted the gay community, and often erased entirely. For a long time, the AIDS crisis was the only well-known history of the LGBTQ community, a tale of suffering and death that we see enough in mainstream media. Queer, There, and Everywhere dives into the history of twenty-three figures in the LGBTQ community who changed the world, from Frida Kahlo to George Takei to Martin Luther King Jr.’s right hand man Bayard Ruston to the first openly gay mayor in San Francisco, Harvey Milk.
Including LGBTQ history in schools has always been a hot topic. Parents have often argued that grade school and even high school are too early to talk about the LGBTQ community, stating it’s just too adult a concept to be taught. For LGBTQ youth, this can be a harmful stance because it invalidates their experiences and might lead them to believe they are alone. I’ve had well-meaning people ask me not to outwardly mention my sexuality around my younger family members. At the time, I agreed, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. Was my existence something abnormal that would require a special talk? If our history was taught, not only would the special talks disappear. but so would the idea that being gay or transgender is something new and foreign, when it's been around for centuries.
It wasn't until California passed a law in 2016 stating that public schools should include history of LGBTQ and disabled individuals in classrooms as low as the second grade that it seemed the tides were turning in this outdated concept. This initiative was a part of an attempt to teach more marginalized histories. Though this is a step in the right direction, it looks like it is up to books like Queer, There, and Everywhere to lead the way.
It surprised me to read that some of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s best friends were feminist lesbians, or that for decades she would write love letters to a woman journalist nicknamed “Hick.” While each story might be up for historical debate, Prager confirmed every chapter had to have substantial evidence of the subjects’ queer gender or sexuality before making it into the book. In the case of Eleanor Roosevelt, a number of the letters between her and Lorena Hickok survived. Snippets of the correspondents are shown in the book, including romantic phrases such as “I can’t kiss you so I kiss your picture good night & good morning!”
I was fortunate to meet the author Sarah Prager at a promotional event for the book. She told the story of how she came to join her love of history with her search for community as a teenage lesbian. More importantly, she wanted her research to include the entire gender spectrum, so that transgender or gender non-conforming teenagers could see their histories represented. She carefully considered the pronouns she uses in the book to better reflect the identity of the characters. She talked about how she wanted intersectional identities represented in the book, and how colonization had so thoroughly wiped away different cultures' histories that it was difficult to find records at all.
As she read one of her favorite chapters, about a Swedish sovereign Kristina Vasa who gave up the throne instead of conforming to marriage, I imagined what a difference it would make if Kristina’s story took up just one day of the classroom. How at least one teen might perk up at the reading and show a little excitement, finally seeing themselves represented in history, instead of learning the different periods during the time of the dinosaurs. Because dinosaurs are long gone, but the LGBTQ community still exists and deserves to have its place in history known.
Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Christopher
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Macey Lavoie is a Boston based writer currently completing her MFA in Popular Fiction & Publishing at Emerson College. She is a feminist, book enthusiast and self proclaimed lover of sharks. She has been published in HerCampus and Luna Luna Magazine. When she is not busy jotting down ideas in her notebook she can be found reading with her toes in the sand.