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A Look Back at LGBTQ+ History Month

LGBT History Month 2023
LGBT History Month
LGBT History Month 2023

October is known to be a spooky season with the start of fall and all things Halloween. However, for some it is a month of learning and researching those that came before them. October is LGBTQ+ History Month and has been for nearly two decades. I spoke with the University of Arkansas’s Dr. Arley Ward, an instructor in the department of History about what the month means and why LGBTQ+ history is American History.

Victoria Hernandez: Dr. Ward, thank you for meeting with me today. Can you take a moment to describe a little bit about your background studying and teaching on the subject of LGBTQ+ history?

Dr. Arley Ward: Yes. Thank you for having me, first off. I am a doctorate in history at the history department at the University of arkansas. A modern Americanist. And my research interests have always been geared around efforts of those on the outside of communities to make their way into communities. To have greater awareness, to raise understanding and that just simply fits with LGBTQ+ history. And the effort of finding historical silences where people were not paying attention to or records did not survive and try to fill in that gap so we can prove that LGBTQ+ history existed and that it still does.

VH: All right so today I just wanted to take some time and discuss what LGBTQ+ History Month is and why it is important. What are your thoughts on that?

AW: It’s an awareness month, you know, we do that for several different things a year, but it’s important because it allows us to focus our efforts, for one calendar month, to be specific and intentional with our efforts to highlight the importance of LGBTQ+ people. The thing I always tell my classes is there are LGBTQ+ Americans and Arkansans, and so it’s important that we recognize those people and talk about their contributions, lift them up, and encourage and support them, especially in times that we find ourselves living in now. And its a great opportunity to do that and remember where we came from and remember where we’d like to continue on towards further equality.

VH: The celebratory month has only been around about two decades, why do you think that is? 

AW: Again I think it’s because you had efforts to diminish the presence of those people. Legally, it was illegal to be LGBTQ+ for a long time. Sadly that works its way into historical archives where resources are not saved. Or it's a danger to even be speaking up about who you are. And so it took a while to have a ground swell, notably after the Stonewall Riots and the gay pride celebrations and marches, to finally have that come forward and have enough support to push that into the floor.

VH: So LGBTQ+ History Month provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on how the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people have changed. Reflecting on your own research and teachings, why do you think it is important for people to continue celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month?

AW: It’s the same thing again about history of America and history of Arkansas. We have to remember that there was a struggle to have the recognition that we have now and the limited protections that we have now. If we don’t remind ourselves of how things were, it’s gonna be a lot harder to keep us from going backwards to those darker times where it's frightening for people to be who they are or say who they love. For instance in most states in the country, you can still be fired for being LGBTQ+ without any other reason, even today. So we have to build on our momentum of pushing ourselves forward and granting greater recognition and allyship as we go.

VH: How can the history of LGBTQ+ people in the US help us understand the impact of being LGBTQ+ in Arkansas right now?

AW: You cannot teach history of anything, the world, Arkansas or the United States, without talking about the efforts of LGBTQ+ people. People may not be aware that they’re doing it, but they are doing it. For example, World War II, Alan Turing is an LGBTQ+ person that breaks the enigma code for the Germans and allows us to win WWII. Arkansas specifically, specifically Fayetteville, has an amazing story associated with the development of the Gender Studies program on campus. And there was a group, a lesbian student group, that called themselves proudly “The Razordykes” and wanted student funding from the university and were denied that. And had to push forward with that. The reason they were denied funding was simply because of their name and they were asked repeatedly to just change their name and they would get the funding they wanted and they resisted that. And so they paved the way for a lot of people in this area to see yourself as a valuable community member and demand that you have equal resources to help yourself and the community more broadly.

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Victoria Hernandez is a news intern for KUAF and currently a senior dual majoring in English/Journalism with History and Gender Studies minors at the University of Arkansas.
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