University Letter

UND's faculty and staff newsletter

October is LGBTQ+ History Month

In 1994, gay high school teacher Rodney Wilson of Missouri and some of his colleagues created LGBTQ+ History month as means to give LGBTQ+ kids a chance to learn the history Wilson never had growing up. It was an opportunity to help kids see themselves in those who had come before them. Wilson chose October as the month for recognizing that history because of National Coming Out Day occurring Oct. 11.

“Queer history is not just about learning from the past but understanding how movements and the fight for human rights have shaped our society as we see it today. It is about contextualizing our past to help guide the future,” said Jeff Maliskey, UND’s Pride Center director.

A Brief Queer History

On Oct. 14, 1979, the LGBTQ+ community and allies marched on the nation’s capital for LGBTQ+ rights. The First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights helped pave the foundation for the fight for equality. The Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was Oct. 11, 1987. The march, nicknamed “The Great March” for its sheer size and historical importance, marked the first national coverage of ACT UP, an AIDS activist organization protesting the U.S. government for its lack of response to the AIDS crisis, along with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Bowers V. Hardwick.

The following year, on Oct. 11, 1988, the first National Coming Out Day was held, commemorating the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Although a history of protests, marches and fight for equality are at the forefront of queer history, tragedy, pain and suffering contribute to the ongoing challenges experienced by queer and transgender people.

On Oct. 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, an out, gay college student at the University of Wyoming was approached by Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie; McKinney and Henderson offered to give Shepard a ride home, but instead drove him to a remote rural area where they proceeded to torture Shepard, tying him to a barbed-wire fence and leaving him to die. A cyclist happened to ride by Shepard, who was in a coma, barely clinging on to life. Shepard was rushed to intensive care and was pronounced dead six days after the attack on Oct. 12, Shepard was 21 years old. Shepard’s murder brought national attention to hate crime legislation and, in Oct. 2009, U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

These are a few important pieces of queer history that have shaped experiences for queer and trans people today, and why LGBTQ+ History Month is recognized in October.

Coming Out Week at UND

News clipping from 1991.

In Oct. 1990, the Organization for Alternative Lifestyles held the first Coming Out Week at UND. It was an opportunity to raise awareness and educate the campus community about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. For Coming Out Day, the organization chalked the sidewalks on campus with positive messages, slogans and information about LGBTQ+ people. However, the next day, faculty, students and staff were welcomed to campus by messages of hate targeting the LGBTQ+ community on the sidewalks. The social opposition only motivated LGBTQ+ students and allies to fight back and advocate for a greater institutional commitment to serving LGBTQ+ students. Coming Out Week became a campus tradition with efforts led by LGBTQ+ students.

This year, the UND Pride Center is continuing the tradition of Coming Out Week with a series of events focused on community education. The events are designed to educate the LGBTQ+ community about history, navigating the world and building a network of support.

Coming Out Week Events 2022

Tuesday, October 11 – Coming Out Day Cupcakes
12-1 p.m., Memorial Union Lobby

Tuesday, October 11 – LGBTQ+ and Ally Forum
6-7 p.m., Pride Center

Wednesday, October 12 – Let’s Talk: LGBTQIA+ Workshop (hosted by Career Services)
5-6 p.m., Pride Center

Thursday, October 13 – Queering Sex Ed
5-6 p.m., Memorial Union 318

Friday, October 14 – LGBTQ+ Ally Training Pt. II
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Memorial Union 318
*Registration required