It’s a good week, Teen Eye Community! We’re in the afterglow of a landmark decision. (Finally, some politics to celebrate!) On September 6th, India has ended its ban on homosexuality. The case has made it so "1/5 of the world’s LGBTQ+ population are now legally allowed to love who they want. It’s the biggest decriminalisation of homosexuality in human history" We're jumping for joy. Every harmful bill that is revoked means we're one step closer to a more tolerant global society. And you know we're all history nerds, so we took this opportunity to pay homage to five queer figures your teachers never discussed. Open your notebooks, and lets look at the five members of the long list of trailblazers whose queer identities informed their world-changing careers.
1. Nyah ❤️s Magnus Hirschfeld
If necessity is the mother of invention, then I think it’s safe to say Magnus Hirschfeld was the father of transvestism as he is said to have coined the term, validating the experiences of early transgender populations. Reigning from Kolobrzeg, Poland, Hirschfeld spent the beginning portion of his career studying philosophy and medicine across Germany. As part of his research experience, Hirschfeld traveled to the U.S. where he found himself amidst the wonder that is the homosexual subculture of (you guessed it) Chicago. Here, he discovered that the differences between this local LGBT+ scene and the one back home in Berlin were very few in number, proposing the concept of universal homosexuality. Later in his life, he started a naturopathic clinic in Berlin- Charlottenburg. Here, he focused on treating illnesses without the use of drugs where the eerie trend of suicide in the LGBT+ community peeked his attention. Because of his findings, he became the first person to statistically correlate heightened suicide rates with homosexuality and used this data to advocate for gay rights while attempting to provide his patients with a reason to live.
In 1896, Hirschfeld wrote the pamphlet Sappho and Socrates under a pseudonym (because why not) on gay love (yes, it is as amazing as it sounds) and founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee which focused on defending homosexuals by attempting to eliminate social hostility towards the group and repealing a German penal code that criminalized homosexuals. Hirshfeld’s stance that homosexuality was completely natural and normal made him quite the controversial figure at the time, earning him a spot on a few hate lists. Hitler is said to have described him as “the most dangerous Jew in Germany”, which speaks for itself. If you find yourself being disliked by someone like Hitler, you have to be doing something right.
2. Furqan ❤️s Baynard Rustin
Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Bayard Rustin was a leading activist starting during the early Civil Rights Movement. Born in 1912, Rustin paid witness to the painstakingly slow progress of African American life post-end of slavery. He was the son of a Black woman and West Indian immigrant man. Rustin attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheney University of Pennsylvania) in Pennsylvania, both being historically black schools. He moved to New York City and studied at City College of New York in 1937. His politics briefly lied with the Young Communist League in the 1930s before he became disillusioned with its activities and resigned.
In 1947, he helped to initiate the Freedom Rides, inspiring more of them to happen across the Southern USA, challenging racial segregation with protests free of violence. He assisted everyone from local grassroots movements, to Martin Luther King Jr., to Gandi's movement to free India from colonial rule. A member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Non-violent resistance was a key factor in Rustin's identity as an activist. From 1958 to 1968, he was a leading strategist for the Civil Rights movement, noting reputably that Civil Rights have gone from "protest to politics". He was He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and is highlighted as having an influence on the younger activists of his time, like Stokely Carmichael, and Tom Kahn. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) also trace their influence back to people like Baynard Rustin. He wasn't just vocal about his beliefs on domestic politics, but also America's foreign policy as well. A poised pacifist, he was sent to prison for two years when he refused to register for the draft for the Vietnam War. His influence on the international discourse on human rights spanned across the globe, with Rustin successfully coordinating a march in Aldermaston, England where 10,000 attendees demonstrated against nuclear weapons in 1958. His writings about civil rights include Down the Line, published in 1971, and Strategies for Freedom published in 1976.
Civil Rights movements and demonstrations attracted people from all walks of life and fought for Black and Brown people of all intersections. Yes, an openly gay person was at the epicentre of many iconic moments that led up and continued long after the battle for racial equality. As a man who constantly fought for the recognition of gays and lesbians in civil rights discussions, Baynard Rustin reminds us of applying intersectional to our continuing fight for justice always.
3. Chloë ❤️s Hatshepsut
Nicki Minaj’s immortal words “You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer” remain an anthem to this day. Yet, the binary between King and Queen is a relatively new divide. Often regarded through the sole lens of “first female Pharaoh,” Queen Hatshepsut’s blurring the line between man and woman is too often forgotten in textbooks.
While it may not be totally fitting to label Hatshepsut as transgender, she definitely fits within the gender non-conforming spectrum. She wore clothes traditionally made for the male Pharaohs and even donned a fake beard. Inscriptions of “His Majesty” have been discovered to refer to Hatshepsut. The term “sexual intermediate” was used to describe her by Magnus Hirschfeld, as he worked to hypothesize the many different ways transgendered people may identify.
Some historians argue that Hatshepsut embraced a masculine persona simply as a political act. Others are adamant that she was genderfluid. As fascinating as Hatshepsut was and continues to be, we have to be wary of applying modern terms to ancient figures. An anachronistic lens can provide a disservice. Whether or not Hatshepsut fits the 21st century definition of trans, she shows us wider and and more diverse interpretations of gender have existed for over three and a half thousand years.
4. Olivia ❤️s Osh-Tisch
Osh-Tisch was a bate (a two-spirit, meaning Osh-Tisch was a woman born in a man’s body) in the Crow community, a Native American nation indigenous to the Yellowstone area. Osh-Tisch was known as a talented Artist, Shaman, medicine woman and most notably, a Native American warrior, fighting in the Battle at Rosebud against the Lakota nation. In the Crow language, Osh-Tisch translates to “finds them and kills them”, a name earned when she fought in the battle of Rosebud. Osh-Tisch was described as a dignified leader of the bate. Her identity was not only accepted by the Crow community but celebrated.
In the Battle at Rosebud between the Crow and Lakota nations, Osh-Tisch and another Crow woman named The Other Magpie fought bravely against the Lakota and were responsible for one of the ten Lakota dead in the Battle. This story was all but lost because “the men do not like to tell of it” according to a Crow woman called Pretty Shield.
After the battle at Rosebud, the U.S. government began to confine the Crow people into reservations, attempting to weaken Native American nations by stripping them of their culture. The Americans deeming the bate identity deviant, stripped Osh-Tisch of her gender as well, forcing her and the other bate to dress in men’s clothes and get masculine haircuts. Bate were held in such high regard that Chief Pretty Eagle used his power to force the Americans responsible for the offense off of the reservation. Osh Tisch was the target of religious leaders and the reservation managers up until her death in 1929. Due to the oppressive culture of the United States being internalized in indigenous cultures, Osh Tisch is regarded as one of the last of the bate.
5. Olivia *also* ❤️s Benedetta Carlini
In a time and place where the most important thing was the Holy Bible, Benedetta Carlini was a lesbian nun.
At the age of nine she was given to a convent as property, and at the young age of thirty became the abbess of her convent. At the time Benedetta was alive, sex between women wasn’t common knowledge, so in order to make sense of her sexual acts and feelings toward women, she deduced she was being possessed. Benedetta was renowned in the religious community for the possessions and visions she would experience, the most recognized being Splenditello, a male angel. Benedetta would use her possessions to justify lesbianism to herself, and the other nuns, some of whom were sexual partners, arguing that lesbian sex wasn’t sodomy as long as she was possessed by a male.
Benedetta received the scrutiny of religious leaders unable to decide whether the possessions were of god or a demon. Benedetta would sometimes give sermons in the church, but women were not permitted to preach. When the priests confronted her, she alleged that it was not she who was preaching-- it was a male angel possessing her. As the possessions and visions Benedetta experienced got increasingly unbelievable, the Priests grew more and more suspicious. After this occurrence, the priests issued an investigation into Carlini’s claims.
Sister Bartolomea, one of Carlini’s partners was questioned under oath, and revealed that Carlini had made love to her as Splenditello, called her ‘her beloved’, and taught her how to read. Bartolomea said she hadn’t given consent to Carlini. Whether or not the church had pressured her into saying the advances were unwanted is unknown. Benedetta Carlini remains an important historical figure in women’s sexuality and Christian mysticism.
Let us know any icons we missed and who, or what, you’d like to see on our next Curriculum Reform column!