A lesson to be learned: QU Culture and the Gender Sexuality Alliance held a celebration for LGBTQ History Month

David Matos, Associate Arts & Life Editor

QU Culture and GSA members (left to right) Skylar Haines, Satine Berntsen, Isabella Foley and Glenna Gobeil educated students on LGBTQ history in the Carl Hansen Student Center on Oct. 26. (David Matos)

History class is often convoluted with boring discussions about war and white men in white powdered wigs. But what history books often abandon is the many contributions of a group of people who are often left out of the conversation — the LGBTQ community.

Quinnipiac University’s QU Culture initiative and the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) celebrated LGBTQ History Month with an informational table in the Carl Hansen Student Center and an open discussion with Vincent Contrucci, director of community service, on Instagram Live Oct. 26.

The annual month-long celebration is meant to acknowledge the unrecognized past achievements within the LGBTQ community. This is not to be mistaken with Pride Month which is meant to pay tribute to the 1969 Stonewall riots that kickstarted the gay liberation movement.

“I think the biggest difference between (LGBTQ) History Month and Pride Month is that Pride Month is more of a celebration of who we are because we couldn’t celebrate before. Meanwhile, History Month is (about) teaching others,” said Satine Berntsen, a sophomore film, television and media arts major, GSA event coordinator and QU Culture film committee member.

Members of the GSA and QU Culture stood behind a decorated table with free pride merchandise, educational flyers and bookmarks for every passerby. The brilliant display helped create a learning environment and safe space for students on campus.

“I think in college, especially, people can feel very alone,” said Isabella Foley, a sophomore film, television and media arts major and QU Culture film committee member. “Especially when their communities aren’t being represented. And I think it’s important as students to make sure everybody is feeling that they’re accepted and included.”

This year’s event connected with students and exhibited the progression within the LGBTQ community.

“Somebody today at the very beginning of this event came over to me, and (said) ‘when I saw a rainbow, I knew this was for me,’” Berntsen said. “And that’s what we want. We want to show these things we fought for so long. Just to have a rainbow flag on a table on campus, and that is considered a normal thing. And people walk by and they’re like ‘whatever’ — that is the coolest thing ever.”

Berntsen later hosted a discussion with Contrucci on QU Culture’s Instagram Live. They examined some engaging topics regarding gender identity, resources on campus and the value of LGBTQ History Month.

Contrucci began the open discussion explaining the history and significance behind LGBTQ History Month.

“LGBTQ History Month is an opportunity to recognize and to celebrate the contributions of people throughout history … Worldwide history, not necessarily just U.S. history,” Contrucci said.

LGBTQ History Month was founded by Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, in 1994. Wilson selected October to celebrate LGBTQ contributions throughout history as it falls during the academic school year, unlike Pride Month in June. Other notable LGBTQ holidays also transpire in October such as National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) and Spirit Day (Oct. 21).

LGBTQ History Month can be celebrated in a variety of ways. Contrucci said whether it be participating in Spirit Day or a seminar about queer history, “it’s ultimately up to individual members of the community to identify how they wish to celebrate.”

Berntsen said celebrating with no restrictions is on-brand with the community but taking the time to learn about historical events during LGBTQ History Month is crucial as it keeps it from falling into obscurity.

“I think a lot of people, when they hear about some historical event, they immediately think about Stonewall and then that’s about it,” Berntsen said. “So, hearing about all these different and interesting events that we don’t typically hear about is incredibly important. So, we know our own history because that often gets erased.”

The stories of monumental figures within queer history are not common knowledge due to the simple fact that most of the public schools across the nation have notoriously left LGBTQ voices out of the required curriculum.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by GLSEN, an advocacy group for American LGBTQ students, only 19.4% of respondents reported being taught about positive milestones and people within the LGBTQ community in their schools. Currently, a mere six states require LGBTQ history lessons within their public school curriculum — California, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois and Colorado.

“Once that (LGBTQ) history is being taught in our schools, it becomes a greater validation of the struggles of the community — of who are members of the community — and what is discussed is something that is valued,” Contrucci said. “When it’s not discussed, it’s not valued.”

There are numerous LGBTQ resources on campus for individuals who are seeking to educate themselves, guidance or support. Some include the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement, counseling services and a variety of faculty and staff, like Contrucci, who are members of the community or supportive allies. The New Haven Pride Center is also a great place to seek local support outside of campus.

Quinnipiac made progress in building a more inclusive environment for all identities on campus such as creating  gender-inclusive housing, gender-neutral bathrooms across all three campuses and providing students with the opportunity to choose what name they want to have on their QCard and email. However, the needs of students are unique to the individual which is why groups on campus like the GSA are a fantastic way to connect and demand change.

“That’s exactly what GSA is for,” Berntsen said.“You can go to them and you can say ‘hey, I don’t really like this,’ or ‘this happened to me,’ or ‘I think this might be a good idea,’ and they’re (GSA) completely welcoming to it.”

One of the discussions that’s happening right now within the LGBTQ community is whether saying “preferred pronouns” is inclusive or not. Some people don’t have preferred pronouns whereas others have multiple. This debate among members of the community shows just how often the community is ever-changing and why a month that celebrates queer history is necessary as it’s being made every day.

“A lot of people think historical events are always in the past,” Berntsen said. “But they can be happening at the current moment.”

Being informed about the present is just as crucial. Getting involved in politics and discussions about the future is something everyone should do even outside of LGBTQ History Month as regression within the community is far too common.

“(Allies and members of the LGBTQ community) need to follow the news,” Contrucci said. “They need to be involved in politics. Because politics is what gives you your rights or takes them away, and you don’t want to be caught on the other side when suddenly one of your rights is stripped from you and you’re like, ‘why did that happen?’”

Many people think the rights and privileges within the LGBTQ community today have always been present — which is not the case. Every single right has been fought for, and the community still does not have equal rights. For example, the Supreme Court only legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Being involved in open discussions about the future of the LGBTQ community, as well as the past, is a step forward in the right direction for positive change for society. Though preserving LGBTQ is imperative, we all have the power to make history.

“LGBTQ+ History Month is important because we’re not only are we talking about our previous history, we’re talking about how to go forward and preserve that history and make our own historical moments to build on and to get equal rights,” Berntsen said.

Illustration by (Connor Lawless)

The Instagram Live ended with a discussion about finding your identity.

It’s not uncommon for people to find it difficult to search for a label that represents them. Everyone goes through life figuring out who they are and where they stand within society. It’s normal to grow attached to certain labels, but it’s also commonplace to grow out of other labels as well — that’s just part of life. Some people don’t identify with any labels at all.

“It’s not a race, you don’t have to know tomorrow,” Contrucci said. “… Enjoy the journey and be patient with yourself. You will come to an understanding when it’s the time to come to that understanding and that understanding can change as you grow.”

If you’re struggling to find your identity, you have a community that will support you at Quinnipiac. Take advantage of the resources on and off campus. Finding what labels and pronouns work for you is not something that needs to be figured out overnight.

History is ever-changing. Educating yourself on the people and events that helped progress the community is a great way to make up for the lack of LGBTQ education in schools. LGBTQ rights can be taken away at a moment’s notice, which is why it’s also important to stay informed on current events. LGBTQ history is happening every day and while we need to keep the legacy of its past alive, we need to also continue in the fight in building a better future.