Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month
This is the 10th Anniversary of LGBT History Month. While the October event was started in the mid-1990s, no one took responsibility for defining or organizing an annual celebration.
In 2006, Equality Forum, a national and international organization with an educational focus, took on that responsibility. The goals were to teach history, provide role models, and highlight our impressive national and international contributions. LGBT people are the only minority worldwide who are not taught their history at home, in public schools, or in religious institutions. Without these resources, self-esteem and community pride are undermined.
To achieve our goals and enhance impact, our board decided to select 31 Icons, one for each day in October, and to provide free and online a video, biography, bibliography, and downloadable images for each Icon. We outreached to local, state, and national educational, nonprofit, and corporate organizations to disseminate these resources and prioritized high school gay-straight alliances and higher education. In 2011, with a grant from the MAC AIDS Fund, we created a cloud with about 150 tags for the then-186 (six years x 31) Icons. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary, there are 310 Icons with their videos, bios, bibliographies, and downloadable images archived in the cloud.
How are the 31 Icons selected? An Icon must be an L, G, B or T person, living or deceased, national or international, who has distinguished him/herself in their field of endeavor, become a national hero, or made an important contribution to LGBT civil rights.
We annually solicit nominations from organizations and the public on the site’s home page. These nominees are reviewed by two prominent academics, who make Icon recommendations to Equality Forum’s board.
At the project’s inception, our board addressed whether a nominee was required to be out. Since being out was rare prior to the 1990s, it was not a requirement for those who were deceased. For living nominees, whether they were out was a consideration. In 2013 a nominee who was living but not out was eliminated. Anderson Cooper was selected in 2013 and Tim Cook in 2014, after each came out.
When Equality Forum launched LGBT History Month virtually no one knew what it was. Ten years later, LGBT History Month is celebrated in North America and First World nations. It encourages interest by local communities, states, and nations in exploring their histories. LGBT History Month highlights those who paved the way and inspired, and provides narratives that empower our civil rights movement.
See the list of this year's Icons below.
MALCOLM LAZIN is the executive director of Equality Forum and founder of LGBT History Month. Lazin was a federal prosecutor who received the U.S. Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award. He served as a commissioner and then the chair of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.