Representation of history needs to be more LGBT inclusive

October 29, 2018 — by Phoebe Wang

Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist for the band Queen who died from AIDS in 1991, is finally getting his own documentary called “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is to be released Nov. 2. Undeniably, Mercury and his career are a huge part of 20th century popular culture and it’s great news that his story will finally be told. However, when the initial trailer for the movie was released on May 15, not everyone was excited.

The controversy: Mercury’s bisexuality was a big part of his life and death, yet it was not adequately represented in the  trailer. Granted, trailers usually do leave a lot of the movie’s actual content out, but this does not excuse the apparent misrepresentation of an important aspect of Mercury’s life.

A new trailer released on July 17 featured a quick fix: a brief shot of Mercury holding another man’s hand.

The flames of this controversy have died down, but this incident only serves to highlight how the entertainment industry portrays history as primarily cis-gendered and heterosexual. Furthermore, the journey of LGBT civil rights in America is given less emphasis in contemporary culture and coverage of civil rights history. This disparity only shows young members of the LGBT community that for America, LGBT people and their struggles, both past and present, don’t matter.

As far as I can tell, the closest that the non-Media Arts Program history classes come to discussing LGBT people in history is Alan Turing’s story, when World History teachers show sophomores the film “The Imitation Game.” Turing’s role in WWII was instrumental in cracking the Nazi code, but what makes this film stand out is that it covers Turing’s homosexuality, and his experience as a gay man in the 1940s and in the anti-Soviet period of our history.

Furthermore, even though LGBT persons are briefly mentioned in MAP history classes, the classes don’t go into the LGBT civil rights movement with the same depth that we do the African American civil rights era or the women’s movement.

Unfortunately, besides the brief mentions of the Stonewall riots, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy and Obergefell v. Hodges in U.S. History, there doesn’t seem to be much about LGBT history in our textbooks.

The absence of LGBT history in the curriculum is concerning. In World History, teachers show a short clip where a local mom interviews several students at a nearby prestigious college about the Holocaust to demonstrate their lack of knowledge about this event of human suffering.

If I were to perform the same experiment and ask students about the LGBT civil rights movement, I’m guessing very few would know who Frank Kameny, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the  LGBT community, is. (Kameny organized many of the earlier gay rights protests during the early ‘60s and is largely seen as the father of the gay rights movement.)

They wouldn’t know of police persecution at gay bars, of the protests before Stonewall and of how the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s and ‘90s provoked anti-gay acts of hate. They wouldn’t know that the witch hunts of the Red Scare weren’t limited to just communists but also homosexuals.

What’s concerning about this phenomena is that when we don’t learn about this history of oppression and protests, we can pretend that it never happened. When we ignore a people’s story, we can pretend that they don’t exist. And that’s frightening.

In addition to this, it doesn’t help when we have leadership in this country that promotes the prejudiced ideas and discrimination that already exists against members of the LGBT community. Under the Trump administration, more conservative areas have gone from silently homophobic to proudly homophobic.

According to a memo obtained by The New York Times, the Trump administration plans to redefine sex so that it eliminates the existence of transgender people. Not only is this stance scientifically inaccurate, but this also is clearly a political move aimed at discriminating against a marginalized community and using it for political gain.

Trump says it’s a “scary time for men” (by which he means rich, white, cis-gendered men), and he couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a scary time for women, for people of color and for LGBT people. It’s scary for LGBT youth to know that the U.S. may become a place where they’re not safe to be out. This is all the more reason why we need to share LGBT stories: By doing so, we can begin to reform the anti-LGBT culture. It is through stories that people learn to feel compassion and understanding for people with different experiences and ideas.

As a nation, as a community, we must take responsibility for providing a holistic representation of LGBT history, much like how we must acknowledge the oppression of African Americans ingrained in our culture.

Social media accounts such as @lgbt_history on Instagram have been created to educate people about the past struggles and triumphs of LGBT people.

But this isn’t enough. It is imperative that LGBT history is included in our schooling for the same reasons that we seek to include more voices in our narrative: Our worldview becomes too limited when the only angle we tell history from is the white, cis-gendered and heterosexual point of view.

In addition to diversifying the narrative, having LGBT inclusive history in school curricula shows young people that being LGBT is normal and reduces the shame that many LGBT youth feel before coming out.

Fortunately, California schools are already taking a step in the right direction with the adoption of more LGBT inclusive textbooks in elementary school classrooms. But the process of creating a more inclusive environment where all minorities feel represented doesn’t stop there.

We can take further steps in history courses that don’t have rigid curricula such as AP U.S. History or AP European History by implementing units on LGBT people and civil rights movements. Additionally, in middle school where the curricula is more flexible than it is in high school, we can add more emphasis on the struggles of LGBT people. For AP courses with stricter guidelines as to what needs to be included, the College Board should update their standards to be more inclusive so that AP teachers don’t feel restricted by AP guidelines to not teach more LGBT inclusive material.

And maybe one day, we won’t have to worry about whether or not LGBT icons will have their stories told accurately. Instead, we will finally be able to share and appreciate their contributions to society.

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