Sometimes I feel like I am a 25-year-old, female version of Rip Van Winkle. The man who fell asleep, only to wake up and realize years of events had passed by without him even knowing it.
I feel like this because being the history lover that I am, there have been many times over the past several years of my life, where I realize just how much American history I missed growing up and how much there is still to learn.
Growing up, I was homeschooled, and all my history was learned either through ABeka Christian history textbooks or through historical fiction that I read, which was also mainly from Christian authors. The most controversial American history I learned about was the American treatment of slaves. However, when it came to what was accomplished over the last century through the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the Gay Rights movement — I learned virtually nothing. I knew that women had protested for the right to vote, but never really studied the women involved. I knew segregation and racism had existed having grown up in the south, but again knew very few of it’s actual stories, battles, and triumphs. Lastly, when it came to the gay rights movement, for many years I never even knew it existed, much less the history and American lives it involved.
Apparently, I am not the only one who missed learning this portion of history either. As David Carter writes:
On the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots—an event that transformed a minuscule pre-Stonewall gay rights movement into a mass movement—LGBT history is still being left out of the public school curriculum. California is the sole exception to this rule, having passed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act in 2011.
The omission of LGBT history from the nation’s classrooms is a serious problem for a number of reasons, first and foremost of which is that a democracy requires tolerance, fairness and an informed citizenry. This gap in history textbooks sends the message that our story is one of inferiority. Today’s youth are growing up in a world where LGBT issues are constantly in the news and discussed around the dinner table. Moreover, LGBT rights are a worldwide struggle now, and students need to understand that to be prepared for global citizenship.
LGBT children especially need to know this history, for they can be born into families that might not recognize or accept them. All children need dignity, and LGBT children also need a valid identity. Identity is usually formed from a shared narrative—in other words, a common history. Keeping this subject matter out of textbooks offends the dignity of LGBT children and may contribute to the significantly higher rates of suicide, drug use and depression among LGBT youth.
It wasn’t till my first year out of the home, till college, and since graduation that I would begin to slowly discover how little I actually knew about the history of minority groups within America, from their sufferings to their triumphs.
It wasn’t till college that I learned the truth about how horrific Hitler truly was. In high school, I only learned how tragically terrifying his treatment of Jews was. Come to find out, they were not his only victims.
I must also confess that this discovery process is still happening. As scary as it is for me to admit, my greatest area of ignorance today is still the history of the gay rights movement. I didn’t even know what the Stonewall riots were, or what the meaning of Gay pride events was, or why they are organized until this last month.
Before this, my knowledge of Gay Pride events were blurry mental images of gay and lesbian couples walking in New York and California parades kissing in public, dressing overtly sexual, and carrying rainbow flags. All of this I only knew from random pictures that would pop up on my Facebook feed, or I might come across perusing the news on the internet. Beyond my extremely limited knowledge of Gay Pride events, my ideas of the LGBT community were largely influenced by either stereotypical portrayals of LGBT people in movies and TV shows, or by the loud and angry voices of the church. For so long the Churches and Christians I knew lumped Gay Rights Activists in with Feminist and Pro-Choices advocates — all of which were to be despised and their voices drowned out. In reality, I did not see them as people, but instead they were misguided propagators of issues and agendas to be despised, pitied, and feared.
For so long, all I knew was to stigmatize, judge, and avoid. I never once considered actually learning their perspective, until I began to meet actual people active within the LGBT community and slowly learned they were not the selfish, twisted, rebellious, arrogant, and irreverent people I had believed them to be.
Then the day came, when my best friend growing up decided to share with me his secret he had worked tirelessly for 20 plus years to hide.
The Walls of My Closet
So yes, meeting people and knowing actual friends within the LGBT community changed me. It put a real human face to the issue that I could no longer objectify or ignore. I couldn’t just write it off anymore as some extreme or unnatural fringe. Instead I had to face the fact that these were real people, these were friends I had known my whole life, and I had a choice to make.
So realizing my ignorance and lack of exposure to anything but one perspective, I began to study and learn.
I am still learning.
I want to be a lifelong learner of people, of their stories, of the past — as through this I have found hope and freedom to embrace a brighter, more loving, and more compassionate future.
What I am learning now:
On June 28th of 1969, the New York police raided a bar known as a safe haven for members of the LGBT community. Instead of meekly complying with the arrests and police brutality, these brave men and women decided to take a stand and rioting ensued for over the next week, as they protested the discrimination, intolerance, and inequality. This event, has since then acted as a catalyst for the LGBT movement that organizers across the nation and around the globe have utilized and built upon to create a better world that recognizes the dignity and inherent worth of all people, not just the ones who look and act just like us.
It is this event that Gay Pride Parades and Demonstrations commemorate, as members of the LGBT community, along with numerous friends, family, churches, and organizations in cities around the world join in to support and show their love.
When I look at American history, I see a history full of many colors. Beautiful moments of patriotism and sacrifice, as seen in the colors of our flag or the yellow ribbon around a tree. But there are also moments of deep pain and sadness.
Whether it was slavery, racial segregation, or discrimination of any kind — our history is full of ugly colors made up of bruises and blood.
From the American frontier as the white man drove the Native Americans from their homes in the name of God and Destiny reducing entire people groups to a mere shadow; to the horrors of slavery; to the exclusion and discrimination of women; to the degradation of separate-but-equal; to the terror and vicious brutality of lynchings; to the fear-induced racism and mania that led to imprisoning Japanese Americans in prison camps; to the red scare and McCarthy raids on political dissidents and members of the LGBT community; to the shameful judgment and abandonment of HIV/AIDS victims; to racial profiling and police brutality seen perpetrated against African-Americans, immigrants of all races, muslims, LGBT people, and more; to the bullying we see in our schools today — this colorful past speaks more of our pain, prejudice, and failures, than it does of hope and freedom.
As Americans, the beauty of our land of freedom is that it is supposed to beckon with opportunity, but history shows that sometimes this gesture is just a cruel mirage as we turn on our own or deny basic human rights, respect, and dignity to anyone we deem “un-American” enough or merely too different from the social accepted norm.
Learning this history, knowing well what role the American church has played throughout this troubled history, and how it has often stood as a loud voice in opposition to the LGBT community, and knowing my own compliance and participation for a time weighs on me heavily. For so long, the Church has only been known as a place of judgement and eternal damnation for members within this community, rather than giving them a safe and loving space to commune with God and others and be free to find answers to their questions of Faith and life without judgment or expectation. I am so grateful that there are members of the Church and members within the LGBT community now that are speaking up and creating those safe spaces for life and faith to be worked out with grace and love.
I know that I still have so much to learn, and I am very hesitant to speak at all, as I question deeply whether anything I have to say on this issue is truly worth anyone’s time given the fact that I am straight and how new I am to it all. However, while I fight my fears and insecurities, I also know I can no longer sit quiet, knowing what I do about what messages of discrimination, judgment, and no tolerance for any kind of questions or discussion or changing faith paradigms are doing to young people within this community here in America and around the world.
Facts About Suicide
Suicide Prevention Resources.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. 
LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. 
Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. 
Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. 
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. 
1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9-12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. 
Suicide attempts are nearly two times higher among Black and Hispanic youth than White youth. 
Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. 
For Sources and More See Link Below: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide
I know all too well the feeling of having to hide too much of myself, my feelings, and my life away from others, fearing that if they knew the truth they would abandon me. I never want another person I encounter, to ever question whether my faith or my beliefs would translate into me not respecting them, not loving them, and even worse making them feel as if they would be better off dead than alive if I were to know the truth.
Brene Brown writes of the power of shame by saying,
Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it love perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.
As much as it hurts to learn of these parts of American History, it is imperative to remember them.
The only way to move beyond the shame of this rocky past is to speak of these stories and to hold its victims up to the light in honor.
So if nothing else, let these words wrap around them.
Let us remember these stories, for the broken and painful truths they reveal about our darkness and humanity.
Let us learn from them and move forward making sure that anyone else who might be openly or secretly struggling with the belief that they too are unworthy of respect or don’t belong, knows instead that they are loved and not forgotten.
1. What story(s) from American History is/are the most difficult for you to remember and reckon with?
2. What was your history education in your primary and secondary education years like? How do you think our education and teaching of History can be improved for young people today?
3. Do you ever feel you have to hide who you are? What stories do you not tell for fear of no longer belonging or being found worthy?
Sources Referenced and Reviewed:
1. Top 10 Historic Gay Places in the U.S. Polly, John. The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide16.4 (Jul/Aug 2009): 14-16.
2. Robinson, John M. “The LGBT movement springs from the stonewall riots.” State Magazine June 2011: 9. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 July 2014. Document URL
3. “It’s Time to Write LGBT History into the Textbooks,” David Carter, June 28, 2014. http://time.com/2935029/stonewall-riots-lgbt-school-curricula/
4. Gay-Pride Parades Across U.S. Mark 45 Years Since Stonewall, June 29, 2014. http://time.com/2937684/gay-pride-2014-stonewall/
7. “Why Stonewall Matters after Forty Years,” Gorton, Don. The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide16.4 (Jul/Aug 2009): 6. Document URL.
8.”What Made Stonewall Different,” Carter, David. The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide16.4 (Jul/Aug 2009): 11-13. Document URL.
9. It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, 2011. Website.