News Flash: History Is Not Just for Straight People

Roundup
tags: gay history, LGBT



Hugh Ryan is the author of the forthcoming book When Brooklyn Was Queer (St. Martin’s Press, March 2019), and co-curator of the upcoming exhibition On the (Queer) Waterfront at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week, a contrarian hot take from England has sparked debate among many in the queer community. The piece argues that perhaps it is a good thing for queer youth to not know or care about queer history. This ignorance is a sign, according to the author, that they have been freed from some ineffable burden, and can just enjoy life – blissful, ignorant life.

Of course, the reason young LGBTQ+ people are free to be ignorant is because their own history is not taught to them at all — not in school, or in most family settings. So this freedom is rather paradoxical: the freedom to not carry what they were never given; the freedom to dismiss what has already been discarded for them. It is intellectual poverty repackaged as privilege, and the fact that queer youth are thriving nonetheless is an indicator of their brilliance and resilience — not a sign that they don’t need this history.

The author of the piece has already been (appropriately) dragged so hard that he’s quit Twitter. I’ll leave that dead horse for others to beat. But I want to address the central question: What isthe importance of queer history?

I think I should be writing something here about the need for ancestors, and pioneers – about Harry Hay and Sylvia Rivera, Abu Nuwas and Sappho. And yes, of course, that matters. I cried the first time I read about a person who reminded me of myself (it was the seventh grade. I cried a lot.) Experience shows that teaching queer history in schools can significantly reducehomo/transphobic bullying. There is also quite a bit of research that shows that all students gain from being taught diverse stories. This knowledge allows them to think more critically about ideas, and less judgmentally about their peers. Everybody wins.

Moreover, if you’ll pardon the cliché, history is a vast tapestry. When we pluck out a single thread because the color offends us, the overall picture becomes warped and unintelligible. Without queer history, we cannot truly understand history, full stop. ...



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