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Young Queer People Should Definitely Be Obliged To Care About LGBT History

This week, writer Dylan B Jones wrote a daunting piece for the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude. The piece, titled “Young Queer People Shouldn’t Be Obliged To Care About LGBT History – And That’s The Biggest Sign Of Success There Is,” became subject of widespread criticism amongst online LGBT circles. The article, as a whole, was denounced for being ignorant and tone-deaf. I took time to read the article and came to the conclusion that he was right, to an extent, but mostly entirely incorrect by a wider margin.

To begin, he strongly claims that in recent years, things have seemed to have looked up for the LGBT community: we’re not being bullied anymore (or so he says), we’re no longer living in fear (or so he says) and that we have fabulous stars that we can look up to (a fact). “They’re allowed to be themselves in school,” he states. “They’ve got strong, healthy characters to look up to on television and in movies, and they’re experimenting sexually without fear or reprehension. Shame is largely a thing of the past and homophobia is, like, so 2008.”

Ideally, this is true – but only superficially. From person to person, the opinion of the sense of normalization about homosexual, bisexual and even transgender groups in society differs. As a matter of fact, I can argue that the attitudes of the past still stronger resemble today’s, the mere difference is actually those of the sexual minority; they, particularly young people, have easier access that tells them it’s okay to like men, it’s okay to like women, it’s okay to not fit into the gender assigned you were assigned at birth. We can even argue and state that there aren’t major laws in most developed countries that sentences us to death for existing and it’s very much true that we have divine LGBT stars who are international celebrities. However, to read this argument and not recognize the point of view directly impacted by privilege is an absolute impossibility. Read it for yourself: “[Young people] also got shit to do. They’ve got shelves to stock, hair to cut, gigs to go to, dissertations to write, dicks to suck, selfies to take.”

If we see around the world, outside of our own personal bubbles, we’ll see that transgender people and others engaged in homosexual relationships are firmly retaliated against for existing. The United Kingdom, presumingly Jones’s home, (Attitude is U.K.-based) is very obviously a developed country with liberal laws towards sexuality. However, despite laws and national development, that doesn’t mean LGBT people are completely safe from harms way. Let’s take a look at the world now: just this week, it was reported by Fox News that transgender women in Indonesia were being arrested, subjected to physical abuse and having their hair cut in public. Just last November 2017, Advocate created a slideshow commemorating 27 transgender people who were violently murdered. A month later in December, a family whose hierarchy was two lesbian mothers were murdered in a quadruple homicide alongside their two children. Just this decade, the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting took place, which is considered to be one of the deadliest shootings in United States history since 9/11. In the U.K., a man was recently found to be guilty of plotting a terrorist attack last year for a Pride festival that fortunately never materialized.

And these are merely the few stories that have been widely covered. I know for a fact that I am missing many, many other stories and that’s the saddest part about this. If I were to write an article about each and every single case, it would be worth thousands of dollars (if the value of the word was $0.05). Obviously not everywhere is very “safe,” right? You’ve got to be completely oblivious to your surroundings if somehow you think that everything is sunshine and rainbows.

He went on to discuss the “brilliant young LGBTQ role models” that “burst kaleidoscopically into pop culture,” which something that I find rather shocking, considering that society isn’t new to having celebrities from the LGBT community. There was Gore Vidal and Truman Capote and John Rechy and Marlene Dietrich and Harvey Milk and Elton John and Freddie Mercury and RuPaul and Madonna and James Baldwin and a list that goes on and on. And even aside from these people, everyone in the world was very much aware of homosexuality and bisexuality, but they chose to ignore it. It was peculiar that he named various celebrities as if that in someway signified societal acceptance. LGBT celebrities signify nothing for societal attitudes.

The most startling side of the article was that of the implication that somehow it’s new that many LGBT “prioritize superficiality and fun over activism and action.” None of this is new. In the 1987 nonfiction book And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts, there’s a complete chapter in the beginning of it discussing the frustration of many gay activists when they come across other homosexuals who simply don’t care about doing anything for the community, especially during the rising AIDS epidemic, which is what the book is based on. This issue has existed for years upon years and to be ignorant of your history perpetuates that. However, this is something that I find to be inevitable; people will simply not care and that’s entirely okay, I won’t bother you. Not everyone has the strength to march in the streets with a sign or to push legislation, but when these people finally decide to open their mouths, especially to spill nothing but rubbish, it becomes an issue.

As much as they might not like it, writing an entire article dedicated to influencing young people to not care about the events and those who gave us what he have today is a ridiculous, irresponsible and ignorant thing. It’s not to say that everyone is required to specialize in academic theory and educate themselves on every aspect of LGBT history; not everyone is going to know Cooper’s Donuts or the Compton Cafeteria Riots, but to know what the Stonewall Riots were and who Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were are important, entirely necessary things.

A large issue with Jones’s statements is that it implies that a person can only be one thing, a one dimensional person who should either be entirely dedicated to breakfast, lunch and dinner orgies, or an activist who goes down knocking congressional walls seeking some new kind of legislation. Who said one couldn’t march during the day and party all night? Why is suddenly everyone deciding to be one kind of person instead of emerging themselves in everything either necessary or divine? Also, where did “we’re not allowed to enjoy them once we’ve got them” come from when you’re evidently catering to an audience who doesn’t care?

In essence, Jones’ argument was flawed in so many angles. Can you imagine what it was like in the 1960’s for transgender activists, the laws (or lack thereof), being treated as a confused homosexual, being abused by the police and fighting for a group of people that 50 years later would come back and spit in your face? To Jones, Marsha P. Johnson might’ve not cared, but you know who certainly would have? Sylvia Rivera. Of course, you won’t know who she is unless you educate yourself on your LGBT history.

Start by watching her famous speech where she speaks to a crowd of middle-class, white gay people who expressed indifference towards lower-class transgender people and queer street people in their activism: “Y’all Better Quiet Down” (1973).

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Fernando Reyes
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High-school teenager with interests in fashion, writing and film.

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