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LGBT+ History in the Classroom

'I’m always on the lookout for LGBT+ stories and people from the past and I love to see how other people like me have been around for thousands of years.'

Hello everyone! I'm James and as well as working with Pop‘n’Olly (I’m a proud co-author of 'What Does LGBT+ Mean?') I’m also a massive History fan. I’m always on the lookout for LGBT+ stories and people from the past and I love to see how other people like me have been around for thousands of years. People in the past might not have used the same language as we use, but LGBT+ people are nothing new - it’s just another part of being a human.

I was inspired to write this blog because I saw a news article about Roman Emperor Elagabalus. A museum recently decided to change the pronouns used to describe them to she/her – a move interpreted as defining her as a trans woman. But is this the term that she’d use if she existed today? 

A lot of the terms that we use nowadays to describe ourselves are actually very new. The term gay to refer to homosexual people has only become common in the last 100 years, the use of transgender as an umbrella term largely gained popularity in the 1980s and people being described as non-binary is even more recent than that!

The question of how someone thousands of years ago would identify themselves is impossible to answer, and I’d argue that it doesn’t even really matter. The point is that she defied the social norms of Roman Emperors, including wearing makeup and wigs and calling herself a bride in her marriage to a man.

Trying to apply modern labels such as gay or trans can be useful in teaching, it’s a great opportunity to discuss diverse identities in the classroom, but the main thing that I take from reading about someone like her is just what a rich history the world has of people defying the rules that society has set for them about their gender. 

So given all that, here are my top 4 tips for adding a bit of diverse spice to History lessons:

Just drop it in - every time period in history has examples of LGBT+ people. Yes, every single one! An LGBT+ person’s identity doesn’t need to be the centre of a lesson, it can just be something that’s brought up in the conversation. For example, when talking about Henry VIII’s six wives, why not casually mention all the male ‘favourites’ of King James I too? There are lots of great examples in our Pop‘n’Olly posters of people for whom being LGBT+ is just one of the many things in their lives.

Remember the positives - quite often we know about LGBT+ people because of the hardships they faced, discrimination, abuse or even being sent to prison. But remember that for each one of those people living as they felt was right for them was often more important than any potential recrimination. The French spy turned English gentlewoman, the Chevalier d’Eon, went to court to have their gender as a woman officially recognised. She faced intense media attention and scrutiny but chose to keep on living as she felt was true to herself and was happier for it!

Look at different cultures as well as people - many cultures throughout history have had different ideas about gender - from the Hijra in Southeast Asia who often held prominent court positions to the Fa’afafine who could take on leadership roles in Samoa’s matriarchal society. This extends to sexuality too, many different cultures in the past have recognised the ideas of same-sex union including the people of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt or the Caribbean pirate tradition of Matelotage (the origin of the word ‘matey’).

It’s not just LGBT+ history - all over the world and throughout history people have behaved in ways different to our cultural norms. Did you know that in Imperial China men’s hair was worn down to the waist with cutting it being seen as barbaric? Have you heard of the great female army known as the Dahomey Amazons?. Whilst Georgian women in the UK were often banned from reading for fear that they were too delicate to handle it, women were the dominant fighting force in West Africa! Neither of these examples are LGBT+ but they go to show that the gender stereotypes we take for granted have often been radically different in different societies.

History allows us to explore beyond the culture we have in the here and now and helps us recognise that the rules that seem so fixed for us are actually a lot more flexible than we might think. The key thing is that cultures can change; we all have the power to change them and lead ours to a more welcoming and inclusive future for all!

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Helen Walsh
08 de fev.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

🙂Thank you James 💜

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