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LGBT+ history month is not tokenism

ByClea Skopeliti

Feb 17, 2015

LGBT+ History Month has been criticised for sidelining LGBT++people and for being patronising. At the most basic level, this is questioning whether there should be a separate month allocated to LGBT+ history. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be necessary, because LGBT+ history would be integrated into history programs all year round. However, this is not the case, and like black history (to which the month of October is dedicated in the UK), LGBT+ history is often neglected, especially in schools.

This results in important LGBT+ figures being written out of history, which is terrible not just because their achievements are forgotten, but also because of the effect this neglect has on attitudes towards LGBT+ people.

In 2010, a music teacher called Elly Barnes in a north London school was prompted to run LGBT+ History Month events after witnessing the prevalence of homophobia around the school.

Five years on, she says that the impact of this is that homophobic bullying has almost been eradicated in the school. This shows that education is one of the most effective ways of fighting ignorance and prejudice, and this is crucial when two-thirds of students have suffered homophobic bullying.

Celebrating the lives and achievements of the likes of Alan Turing is important for the issue of representation, but also because when the oppression of LGBT+ people is made known (Turing was offered the choice between a prison sentence or mandatory injection of female hormones, and committed suicide two years later), people are less likely to make ‘lighthearted’ homophobic jokes (consider the use of the word ‘gay’ as a general negative term.)

Celebrating the achievements of LGBT+ figures is not tokenism. Tokenism suggests they are undeserving, and that they are only being put into the spotlight (for an entire 28 day month! Gay agenda!) because of their sexuality. This is a ridiculously oversimplified way of seeing the world which only works if you think that the playing field is level.

Ironically, just the fact that a separate month is needed for LGBT+ history proves that it is very far from level, and that it would be neglected otherwise. Homophobia has prevented these people being studied alongside people in mainstream.

The only reason there is an LGBT+ history month is that we still haven’t managed to integrate it successfully with the history taught in the other 11 months.

Part of its importance is down to the fact that it points out what is traditionally deemed important and worth of study in history – predominantly white, straight, cisgender men in positions of power.

At this time, we’re not likely to achieve much by getting rid of LGBT+ history month. Getting rid of it would be pretending that homophobia doesn’t still exist, and that LGBT+ people aren’t still marginalised in the study of the past.

Until we’re ready to integrate LGBT+ history into all history courses, all year round, I’d rather have a ‘patronising’ month where LGBT+ history is taught and celebrated than continue to have important figures, events and achievements neglected on the grounds of their sexuality.

By Clea Skopeliti

Former Comment editor and History & English Literature student. Twitter @cleaskopeliti96

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