This October 2023, many countries around the world will celebrate 2SLGBTQIA+ History Month. USask staff, faculty and students are celebrating by sharing more information about queer history through a variety of fun and educational events.
What is 2SLGBTQIA+ History Month?
2SLGBTQIA+ History Month was founded by Rodney Wilson in 1994. Wilson (he/him) is an American teacher who has taught in many different schools and institutions since beginning his career in 1990. He is also part of the International Committee of LGBTQ+ History Months, and is still dedicated to highlighting queer history around the world.
Growing up, Wilson did not know anyone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community, and received very little education about queer people and their history. Wilson shared that he knew that he was gay when he was young, but at the time felt that he was “alone in the world,” so it took him a long time to fully understand and accept his identity.
Wilson began his coming out process when he was a student at Missouri State University. During his post-secondary education, he also began learning about Black and women’s history for the first time. Wilson said that learning about these topics and their respective history months became his inspiration for working on a month dedicated to queer history.
“When I recognized how this information was empowering me, how it was educating me, how it was giving me a foundation that I could build on and helping me understand the community and the way things are and why, I then felt justice,” Wilson said.
From this newfound knowledge and desire to understand and ground himself through history, Wilson established the first Lesbian and Gay History Month in 1994. Today, 2SLGBTQIA+ History Months are held in 19 countries around the world, and the International Committee on LGBTQ+ History Months has representatives from over 20 locations around the world.
Wilson said that he founded the history month to “provide a conscious, intentional spotlight on a neglected corner of history and bring that history out into the forefront during that month, and then year-round. It was an attempt to help legitimize LGBTQ+ history.”
“Every single human person has the inalienable right to the history of their group,” said Wilson. He encourages others to be who they are authentically, and to never be afraid to act on their ideas, because even the smallest thing might grow into something wonderful if given the chance.
Canada celebrated 2SLGBTQIA+ History Month for the first time in 2018 through events held at McGill University. The celebration was organized by Meryem Benslimane, an Equity Educator Advisor at McGill, along with the student group Queer McGill and the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at the University.
Dr. Alessio Ponzio (he/him) is an Assistant Professor of History at USask and is helping to coordinate many events and celebrations of the month during October 2023. Ponzio shared that the celebrations in Canada slowed down during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and many of the previous events had mostly been focused at McGill.
This year, Ponzio and others hope to expand celebrations of queer history across the nation, with many events organized at USask for the occasion. Ponzio shared that he hopes students will come to these events and realize that they are not alone—that there are communities to support and embrace them.
Events at USask:
Join the USask community in learning more about queer history by attending these events hosted throughout the month of October!
Queer International: History, Migration, Human Rights
Discussion moderated by Alessio Ponzio and Rachel Loewen Walker, with invited speakers Laura Belmonte, Víctor M. Macías-González and Swathi Sekhar.
Where and When: October 3rd, 2:30pm-4:30pm, Education Building Room 2014
Not Set in Stone: An Exploration of Gender and Sexuality in Greek and Roman Art
Exhibit Opening at the Museum of Antiquities
Where and When: October 5th, Museum of Antiquities
Let’s Be Perfectly Queer!
Book Club Discussion
Where and When: October 6th, 5pm, USSU Pride Centre
Livingsky by Anthony Bidulka
Book Club Discussion
Where and When: October 11th, 5pm, Education Library
With Jocelyn Ormerod
Where and When: October 12th, 5pm-7pm, Murray Library G3
Movie Night hosted by Jim Clifford and Alessio Ponzio
Where and When: October 13th, 7pm, Neatby Timlin Theatre
Pride and Popcorn
Where and When: October 16th, USSU Pride Centre, 5pm
2-Spirit Learning Sharing Circle
Where and When: October 17th, Gordon Oakes Red Bear Centre, 5pm
Discussion with China White and Iona Whipp
Where and When: October 18th, 7pm, Louis’ Loft
Queerapalooza Drag Show
Where and When: October 20th, Louis’, 7pm
Aimee and Jaguar (1999)
Movie Night hosted by Mark Meyers and Alessio Ponzio
Where and When: October 25th, Neatby Timlin Theatre, 7pm
Better Together than Apart: Why Studying Transnational Queer History Matters by Fionnuala Braun
Why does LGBTQ+ history matter? If you aren’t involved with the LGBTQ+ community, you may never have considered its history. Maybe you prefer to focus on the present, or you feel that LGBTQ+ people in Canada already face so many challenges, so what’s the point of dwelling on the past?
Queer histories affect us today much more than we realize. Take international issues, for example. Many of us in Canada pay attention to global affairs to better understand the direction our world is headed in. We value having an awareness of what’s happening elsewhere, but for many of us ‘awareness’ is where our participation ends. The LGBTQ+ community, both historically and in the present day, offers us a different approach.
Queer international cooperation has long been a gateway for unity, organization, and education. As a minority group, LGBTQ+ people have understood the value of working across borders and paying attention to international issues. They organized on transnational platforms when it came to gay rights, liberation, and enacting political change.
With this in mind, the question has to be asked: What can transnational LGBTQ+ histories teach us about the queer community? And how can they inform queer liberation today?
For the past two years, Dr. Alessio Ponzio, another research assistant and I have been working to answer some of these questions. We are investigating historical homosexual networks and how they cooperated across borders. Our work focuses on Europe during the 1950s – but one of the most incredible things I’ve learned as a research assistant on this project is just how connected queer history is – not only across borders, but also across time.
In tracking how these movements evolved, communicated and cooperated with each other – sometimes across great distances – one can’t help but notice how much LGBTQ+ people learned from and relied on one another. An underground network existed to share queer books, drawings and poetry across many European countries. Some European queer organizations corresponded with contacts in Canada, searching for transnational communities of like-minded individuals.
Perhaps being queer felt isolating in Canada, where it was more difficult to find LGBTQ+ organizations and communities. Perhaps people in Canada had heard that there was work going on overseas – conferences and publications discussing queer liberation that predated the Stonewall Riots by several decades. Or perhaps they were searching for hope, companionship, and belonging. Whatever their goals, it’s clear that many LGBTQ+ people felt they had a better chance of improving their lives if they worked together, across borders.
This is an aspect of history that we often don’t hear about: the small ways individuals reached out, looking for someone who thought or felt the same way they did. They are part of the larger picture that is queer history, but for us as Canadians, their stories are worth telling because they are so much like ours.
How many of us have, at one time or another, felt completely isolated? For those of us who belong to the queer community, history can provide reassurance from another era. As our province introduces bills banning our right to a complete and proper sexual education or preventing people from using their preferred name, the isolation that queer people in Canada might have experienced in the past no longer seems so foreign.
When we engage with transnational queer histories, we aren’t just engaging with events that happened thousands of kilometers away, decades ago. We’re engaging with an essential part of our own lived history, here, in Canada. Most importantly, we’re engaging with queer elders who felt that liberation and equality were important enough that they were willing to reach out across continents to learn how they might be achieved.
So, where do we go from here? I think, perhaps, it’s best to turn to the past for some ideas.
In the letters and publications I explore in my own work on transnational queer histories, it’s common to see statements of unity, such as “Together we rise, together we fall,” or simple encouragement that unity will prevail over division. This sentiment is just as resonant today as it was in 1954.
While post-truth politics and ideological polarization try to divide us, perhaps we can learn something from these queer organizations. Unity, cohesion, and cooperation can overcome isolation and ignorance. When we engage with these transnational queer histories, we are reminded that being queer doesn’t necessarily have to mean being alone.