When we asked readers last week to name the most important LGBT figures and moments in all of history, we received a wonderful response of readers commenting and speaking up about the LGBT people who they most wanted to ensure was not forgotten.
You see, California recently passed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, and the law, in part, requires schools to instruct about the societal contributions of LGBT people throughout history. The law is vague - perhaps intentionally so, to allow each school to develop its own curriculum. But the act's passage begs the question: Which LGBT people or moments will "make it" into California's history lessons? And which should?
This whole week, The Bilerico Project has some of today's biggest LGBT voices sounding off with their personal "Top 5" lists of the most important LGBT figures or moments in all of history. A number of Bilerico contributors will be joining non-contributors, including Larry Kramer, Dan Choi, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, in compiling their own mini-lists of significant people and events.
The lists are extremely varied, covering hundreds of years (from Alexander the Great to Lady Gaga), a good mix of significant moments and people (from the Stonewall riots to Harvey Milk), and every color in the LGBT spectrum.
The FAIR Act doesn't detail too many specifics. That is, it's not clear whether schools must now teach the LGBT rights movement as its own social studies unit, just as they would teach the civil rights movement, or whether schools will simply be encouraged to discuss the non-heterosexual sexual orientations of Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelangelo. The law, it seems, is designed to show that LGBT people have been around forever - and more than that, they've been contributing great things to the world for just as long.
The historical LGBT names could, as some readers and commenters have suggested, be separated into a countless number of categories, divided by historical era, "letter" in the LGBT community, geographic location, and whether the person's contributions to society specifically advanced the movement. There could also be a division between whether figures were confirmed or suspected to have been LGBT (the latter can be said about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton). But to specify categories would risk sneering at the incredible diversity and inclusiveness that we as a community can celebrate.
That doesn't mean the task was easy. Almost all of the LGBT voices represented in this week-long Bilerico feature complained about the difficulty of the task. How, they asked, could their list possibly be narrowed to just five? Just five in all of history?
But ultimately, over 20 LGBT writers, activists, speakers, and organizers - plus dozens of Bilerico readers - lent their opinions to the project. Each formulated their list in a different way. Mike Rogers and Larry Kramer went namely for famous public figures who just happened to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender but didn't specifically advance the movement. Rev. Emily Heath, on the other hand, chose less-famous figures from within the movement. Emily explained to me via email, "I wanted to choose some people who might not be on other lists. I've always been partial to the unnamed activist and the power of communities."
Check back this entire week for more individual "Top 5" lists, and don't miss The Bilerico Project Thursday morning, when all respondents' opinions, including our readers, will be tabulated and tallied up to arrive at a Top 20 list. Don't worry if your favorite LGBT historical figure isn't represented below - with 15 more "Top 5" lists on Tuesday and Wednesday, there's a good chance they'll be represented later this week.
The California Board of Education shouldn't even need to devise their own curriculum to teach the state's students about the contributions of LGBT people - with this list, dozens of activists have already determined what and who are most essential.