When I volunteered to write an article for history month, I initially struggled to decide the best topic. I soon realized that due to my background as a history teacher, the choice was difficult due to my love for the entirety of the subject. However, I eventually decided on the topic of LGBTQIA+ history. Although historically an underrepresented topic of history, its significance is more important now than ever, especially in the modern professional community.
Contrary to the belief of many that more individuals are now “coming out” as LGBTQIA+, it may be more that we, as a society, are becoming more accepting and understanding than in the past. The changing times are giving individuals the freedom to express themselves without fear of persecution. We have the privilege of living in a nation where there are no longer laws that can threaten the very lives of our LGBTQIA+ citizens. We must use that privilege to serve as an example to other parts of the world where it is not yet safe to be “out” as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In contrast to the beliefs of some, allowing LGBTQIA+ individuals to be freely open is more important now than it has ever been. To date, there are still over 70 jurisdictions worldwide where private consensual same-sex sexual activity is criminalized. In Britain, same sex marriage was only legalized in 2014, and the United States only legalized it in 2015. We have a moral obligation to not forget events like the Stonewall Riots of 1969 or Britain’s Yorkshire demonstrations of the seventies. These are milestone events in bringing the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community's efforts to obtain equality in the public eye.
Most importantly, as a historian, I feel that I have a personal obligation to view history through a critical lens. This viewpoint often unveils things that make people unsettled or uncomfortable, and we are forced to realize that things are often not as simple, or pleasant, as our books often portray. The LGBTQIA+ community has dealt with the erasure of its representation throughout our history. Many famous individuals have fallen through the cracks. Society attempted to systemically erase such individuals’ sexuality from our history because of the homophobia of the time. Yet, thanks to diligent record keeping, and select historian’s refusal to allow sources to be denied, here are just a few famous people who we know for a fact were LGBTQIA+ in some regard: Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Sappho, Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Emily Dickinson, The Black Prince of Wales, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf. These are only a few of hundreds of which we are aware.
So why is it important here and now, in the modern world of business and commerce? According to the Sociology for the People group known as Context, it is estimated that as many as 23% of Americans are LGBTQIA+ in some way or another. Sadly, even in our country, where LGBTQIA+ individuals are free to marry, there are still those who hold sentiments that make these individuals afraid to “come out.” They are afraid of societal, familial, or fiscal backlash because of their sexual identity and/or orientation. Due to these fears, it is believed that only slightly over 50% of LGBTQIA+ people in the United States are “out.”
So what does this mean? It means that we are all likely to know someone who’s LGBTQIA+. Not that we might – but that statistically, we do. They could be our co-worker, our neighbor, our niece or nephew. They could be our mailman, or our child’s best friend, or our child themselves. And it is up to us to make sure that we create an environment, in and out of the workplace, where these members of our communities aren't part of the 50% of Americans who are fearful, or reluctant, to be who they are, while living in the country built on the foundation of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Hopefully, in time, that number will continue to shrink until it doesn't exist at all, and everyone can share in that proverbial pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness.
*Author Ben Angstadt is a member of Cipriani & Werner P.C.’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and is an administrative staff member in C&W’s Harrisburg Regional Office.