Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

History is important. It informs people of the trials, tribulations, accomplishments and victories that have happened in the past. It also gives insight to how the present was conceived. Some think history is boring, and some history is boring, but during October, a very important history should be learned, remembered, and shared. October is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) history month.
The Stonewall Riots are a very important part of this history. In fact, these riots that started to take place on June 28, 1969 were the very spark to start the fight for LGBT rights. At this point in time, New York had laws prohibiting gay people from being gay in public or private businesses.
Many places that were considered gay establishments were raided and shut down on a regular basis. Gay and lesbian customers started to riot in front of a local gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village, NY. Gay men and women gathered day after day, night after night, to show the police how tired they were of being harassed and discriminated against. At some points during these riots, there were over 1,000 people protesting, and this encouraged other intense protests to start in other areas of the city.
This event started discussions and advocacy groups, and on the one year anniversary of these riots, the first annual pride parades took place in the following cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and near the Stonewall Inn in New York. Pride parades still happen today all over the country. A city-wide newspaper, Gay, also started after the riots. There are many other gay newspapers; for example, Philadelphia Gay News was started in 1976 and is still going strong today.
There are two very important dates in October that relate to LGBT history month. Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. People can come out on any day of the year, but this day gives people an opportunity to come out together; and if a person is not ready yet, at least they know they are not alone. Coming out of the closet is a huge privilege, one many do not have and one many did not have for a long, long time. Coming out can be very difficult and once a person comes out, they continue to come out for the rest of their life. Coming out is not for everyone, but even those living in the closet deserve to know they are loved and supported by the LGBT community.
On Oct. 7, 1998 a 21-year-old man named Matthew Shepard was murdered by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, in Wyoming. Shepard was abducted by these two men and taken to a secluded area not far from Laramie, Wy. He was tied to a fence and beat with a pistol. The men left Shepard tied to the fence to die in the cold. Approximately 18 hours later, a bicyclist saw Shepard and at first glance thought he was a scarecrow. Shepard was taken to a hospital in Colorado and died on Oct. 12, 1998. This hate crime made national news and people had a wide variety of opinions about the crime. After Matthew’s death, his parents, Judy and Dennis, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
This foundation hopes to encourage people to accept and embrace diversity. As a result of Shepard’s death approximately 10 years later, legislation passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This is a federal law making crimes focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people illegal. For more information about The Matthew Shepard Foundation, resources or to donate to this cause visit:
Shepard’s story is one known all across the world. Yet, there are so many other deaths that have gone unnoticed. Some have been murders and some have been suicides. No matter which way the person died – there have been far too many.
Society has made progress; however, the LGBT community is still viewed as if they are second class citizens. In many states people who are LGBT are not protected by law from losing their job or home based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In about one fourth of the states, gay marriage is not legalized.
In 2011 there was a research article published by Adam Fingerhut in The Journal of Applied Social Psychology on what predicts heterosexuals to be straight allies. The article begins by explaining how throughout history people of privilege have fought to help those being oppressed. Examples given include: white people fighting to end slavery during the Civil Rights Movement, men supporting Women’s Suffrage, and German people helping Jews throughout the Holocaust and World War II.
The article gives examples of how specific heterosexual people have paved a pathway for others to become allies and increased LGBT awareness. Their advocacy has made a difference in the community and in the world. Learning more about the LGBT community history can help current activists and supporters to fight for the rights everyone deserves.
West Chester University has a very large Ally program. LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Services offers “LGBTQ 101” which is a prerequisite to “Ally Training.” Visit for more information about the programs and to register today. There are three more sessions of each offered this semester. The LGBTQA student organization also hosts “Speak Outs” which is when a panel of students discuss their coming out stories and offer a time for questions. In addition to these great programs the LGBTQA Advocacy Committee meets on a regular basis throughout the academic year to discuss the campus climate. The committee is comprised of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. They are determined to keep this campus a safe, warm and welcoming environment for LGBTQA people. Equality cannot be accomplished alone and history does not have to repeat itself.
Rebekah Balmer is a first year graduate student in the higher education counseling and student affairs program. She can be reached at

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