By Vignetta Charles, PhD and Morey Riordan | October 28, 2021
CEO, ETR and Founding Director, Transgender Strategy Center
As an organization committed to advancing health equity, ETR is dedicated to honoring the contributions, history, and evolving health equity topics of LGBTQ+ communities across the globe. In honor of LGBTQ+ History Month, ETR’s CEO Vignetta Charles chats with Morey Riordan, Founding Director of the Transgender Strategy Center, on the past, present, and future of LGBTQ+ History Month in the US.
Vignetta Charles (VEC): Morey, thank you for chatting with me today about LGBTQ+ History Month. You’ve been involved in LGBTQ+ activism for over 30 years. You’ve done everything from leading efforts for the Sperm Bank of California to become the first fully licensed sperm bank in the US to accept gay men as sperm donors to managing national grantmaking initiatives focused on access and innovation to end the HIV epidemic to your service on the Board of Openhouse, serving LGBTQ+ seniors, and now your service on the ETR Board (so excited!).
You are currently the Founding Director of the Transgender Strategy Center where you work with an all TGNC (transgender and gender non-conforming) team to provide no-cost capacity building services to trans-led organizations, as well as supporting cis-led organizations to be in deep partnership with TGNC communities.
VEC: Which brings us to our first question: LGBTQ+ History Month is a month-long observance since 1994 celebrating LGBTQ+ history and the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It is an opportunity to highlight role models (like you) and build community and awareness. What does LGBTQ+ History Month mean to you?
Morey Riordan (MR): Experiencing LGBTQ+ History Month has really shifted over the years for me. In the 90’s, to be queer still felt like a subversive experience and that we only had each other. Any opportunity we had to gather together and feel some recognition and power felt exhilarating…like going to Pride events or marching in the streets to call attention to AIDS and how it was obliterating our community. Today, having a history month feels like a component of deeper integration of our community into what can at times feel mainstream.
As queer people, I think what faces us now in some sense is the duty to hold up individuals and communities that have been erased within LGBTQ+ history. Like the broader culture, BIPOC leaders and communities have been ignored, when they have in fact often been at the courageous forefront of demanding change. I’ve also gotten to an age where I realize that I am part of a huge chapter of LGBTQ+ history, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There have been so many painful and inspiring lessons learned in this chapter and we have to pass these on because there will surely come a time when we need them. Being accepted as queer is still conditional for many, and the future won’t be free of oppression and hatred.
VEC: People of trans experience have not always been included in LGBTQ+ History Month. How do you feel about how that inclusivity has changed over time?
MR: Well, the “T” in LGBTQ+ has often been undervalued and overlooked even within the queer community. The example that many of us now know is the role of trans women of color at Stonewall. Having almost nothing to lose in terms of rights and respect can catalyze true leadership in times of danger. Although change is happening, we need more LGB folks to have the backs of TGNC people. Many trans people, particularly Black and Brown trans women, are still not able to feel safe when they leave their homes, if they even have a home. It has been deeply frustrating to see some of our queer siblings not fight for us at times.
There is another dynamic that is also tricky around broader LGBTQ+ national organizations claiming to hold the mantel for trans justice without the truly meaningful leadership of trans people in the efforts. This has to change, and this is why my current work focuses on strengthening both trans-led organizations and the leaders that serve them. Overall, I am encouraged in some elevated attention to trans history and brilliance, but we have to continue to push for equity here.
VEC: You are also on the PTA at your son’s school. Was LGBTQ+ History Month celebrated there? And do you have a vision of what celebration of LGBTQIA+ folx can look like for kids and schools?
MR: My son’s school is probably as queer friendly as they come. Over one-third of students identify as queer or TGNC. While that is true, I do not see a robust focus on celebrating queer history. In many ways, the kids are leading the way rather than adults. I asked my son a few years ago if his friends at school knew that I am trans, and he answered, “Yeah, but I’m not sure they remember that. It’s no big deal.” Wow! Young people are deciding what really matters around gender identity, and what does not. We are lucky to live in an area where this is true.
I don’t want to diminish the truth that this is absolutely not true in most of our country. Trans kids are often bullied and isolated and lack adults in their lives that can give them love and hope for a sparkly future. I’d love to see more celebratory events that are collaboratively created by adults and kids. I’d love to see history posters at schools that include trans activists, artists, and leaders. A poster may seem a small thing on the surface, but even seeing one for a trans kid sends a message of hope and a future that can be filled with greatness.
VEC: Final question, if you were to get in the time machine and go forward another 30 years, what would you hope to see for the future of LGBTQ+ History Month?
MR: I’d like to see the stories of BIPOC queer and trans leaders being shared as commonplace. I’d like to see stories and materials reflect that the gender binary is a thing of the past. I’d like to know that every queer and trans person can see themselves in the historical narrative. In reading your question I also had a vision of huge, celebratory picnics where families and communities come together to celebrate the value that queer and trans people add to everyday life. Mostly I’d love to see that hatred, violence, and discrimination against our community is a thing of the past.
Vignetta Charles, PhD, (she/her/hers) is Chief Executive Officer of ETR. Dr. Charles can be reached at email@example.com.
Morey Riordan (he/him/his) is Founding Director of the Transgender Strategy Center and a new member of ETR’s Board of Directors. Morey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.