The other morning, I was riding the B train for my regular commute to work when suddenly I looked up from my phone to notice that I was riding the car with, like, four other queer folx. I know you can’t make assumptions based on looks, but my inner gaydar was going off. And in that same exact moment, my fave podcast hosts of all time, Food For Thot, were in my earbuds talking about how, during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, gay men in Manhattan would masturbate on the rooftops at sunset and just look at each other because they were too afraid to physically touch one another. Their guest thought Alexander Chee recalled thinking “Will I kill my lover if I touch him?” And I just couldn’t hold back my tears.
My love for queer and trans people expands so much farther than my sexuality. It’s something I feel so innately in my being that I can’t quite describe it. I love us for our boldness, for the vulnerability it takes to be out in this world, I love us because we find ways to embrace pleasure even when we’re told our bodies are weapons, I love us because we dance in glitter and leather for revolution, because we have paved a way for existence where there wasn’t one before. And the more I delve into the history of my queer and trans elders the more tenderly I love my community.
But exploring our history is more difficult than one might think. It’s not laid out in history books. It’s not documented in museums. It’s not talked about in our childhood. We’re taught not to embrace or even acknowledge the history of queer and trans people. Our history is filled with hot rage, unbreakable love, bold resistance and unabashed defiance. To embrace that history would be to give power to the voices of people like Marsha P. Johnson and Mary Jones — and giving power to the people who are the most marginalized is something the state does not want (for we would rise).
My quest for learning about queer and trans history has fulfilled me in ways I never expected. So often, as journalists we’re writing about the “first _____ queer woman to accomplish _______” when in reality, there was someone who came before them and accomplished that exact thing. We just don’t know their story. We don’t know about the lost history that went out in garbage bins after they died from AIDS or were murdered in a hate crime. The lost history of amazing artists, thinkers, creators, writers and activists. But thankfully, small pieces of our history have been saved through word of mouth or found journals or long lost letters or photographs. Today, there are queer and trans archivists ensuring that we have access to the history we deserve to know about. The history that lives in our souls. The history that informs our community. The history that is our foundation for continuing with perseverance.
Digital archiving is vital for so many reasons, but the main one being accessibility. You see, much of our history has been compiled in dusty boxes and put in the basement of esteemed universities or museums. While there may be free access to visit these archives, it’s not widely known that 1) these documents even exist, and 2) that there is often public access to visit these documents. And 3) which in my opinion is most demoralizing, is the fact that many of the institutions which house our dear queer history are upheld by white, straight, cis administrations. Knowing there is public access to these documents and feeling safe enough to venture into these institutions and take up space there are completely different things.
All of this to say, f*ck yes to queer digital archivists who make our history public for everyone to access online! Here are 10 of my all time favorite queer and trans history Instagram’s to fill your feed with some tidbits of our rich and empowering backstory.
I only recently found Cooper T. Moll on Instagram and I quickly became obsessed with her page. She is a femme dyke librarian and archivist who is committed to bringing all of her followers a digital representation of our queer history. Moll captioned the photo above with some interesting facts for us, “Dyke Action Machine, Do you love the Dyke in Your Life?, 1993. Created in response to Calvin Klein advertisements’ lack of body and racial diversity.”
Moll is so knowledgable about everything queer and dyke — in another of her latest posts, she explains the complex history behind the inverted pink triangle. “The inverted pink triangle became an iconic symbol once Larry Kramer explicitly compared the AIDS crisis to the Holocaust. And in 1987 the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) chose the symbol as their logo,” Moll writes.
In search of my own femme history, I messaged Moll to see if she had any resources for me and she responded with a comprehensive list of activists and books to look to. Moll is an incredible source of information for the community and she’s ensuring that our history doesn’t get thrown away and forgotten about.
If you aren’t already following @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y then what have you been doing with your life?! They chronicle photos of lesbian culture “from the late 1800s-early 2000s, pop culture to high art since 2014.” The photos that curator Kelly Rakowski shares on this platform are often difficult to find or never before seen displays of lesbian and dyke history. Queer moments that had been all but forgotten if it hadn’t been for this digital platform.
Dynamic duo Leighton Brown and Matthew Riemer started this Instagram account back in 2016 and it has been on fire ever since. They post historical images covering everything from Pride marches to pivotal LGBTQ equality wins and LGBTQ people we should know about. This public archive of queer history gives insight into how LGBTQ people have shaped American culture and life in so many ways that are completely unrecognized.
“It doesn’t have to be historic to be history: it’s all history to us. It can be an everyday event. This is as much of an act of resistance as any protest picture,” Leighton told Chandelier Creative.
“There’s an amazing story about Ronny Viggiani as Dorothy. They had stormed into Trump Tower’s gaudy, ridiculous atrium. They were running away from the cops on the escalator. To slow them down, the cops shut off the escalator. Everyone keeps running, except for Dorothy. They’re yelling at Dorothy. Dorothy yells back, “I can’t run down an escalator in heels.” They had to turn the escalator back on and Dorothy just floated across the atrium. Every single picture has a story like that. We just cannot get enough of figuring those stories out,” Matthew shares with Chandelier Creative.
The 4,000+ photos they’ve posted to the account provide not only empowerment through knowledge but also comfort and strength to queer and trans people living today.
How well do you know your dyke history? This Instagram account will test your knowledge in all the best ways. Alexandra, the 23 year old New Yorker who runs the account posts photos with in-depth captions explaining who the dyke of the day is — and she knows her stuff. Scroll through the 100 or so posts to figure out how well you historic dykes who have paved the way for young lesbians today.
This Instagram page is part of a larger project that includes a blog and podcast. And while they recognize that many have been documenting queer history long before they began this project, what makes them different is that Making Queer History brings it back to the future.
“While every article and podcast episode begins with the sharing of knowledge about queer people/events throughout history, most of them end by bringing it back to the now. Because we are working not only to teach people about our history but to bring that history into terms relevant to the present,” it reads on their site.
This account is dedicated to shining a light on butch women in our past. Artist Isa Toledo and graphic designer Rosie Eveleigh curate this page as “an attempt at levity. To be quite chilled and camp about dykey things, which often goes against the grain of how lesbianism is perceived, which is usually this heavy and highly politicised thing,” Isa told i-D.
Butch women are often the butt of a joke in our culture and this page goes beyond that. They display real and fictional butch women who have created space for masculine-of-center queer women. And they do so with a campy sense of humor.
Another gem from the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ photo collection. “The blacker the berry the sweeter the dyke” and the “Black Lesbian Caucus”. In 1974 the Black Lesbian Caucus, which was part of the Gay Liberation Front, became Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc. , a group focused on issues of importance to African-American and Latina lesbians. Early collective member and activist Candice Boyce said that, at the time of the group’s founding, “there was no other place for women of color to go and sit down and talk about what it means to be a black lesbian in America”. (wikipedia) Photo by Bettye Lane, 1973. #blacklesbiancaucus #salsasoulsisters
The Lesbian Herstory Archives was created “in memory of the voices we have lost.” The physical location of the archives is in Brooklyn, NY (and I have yet to visit – I know, #badqueer). It’s part library, part museum, and part community gathering space that houses the world’s largest collection of materials by and about lesbians and their communities. The Instagram account documents everything that resides within the archives for public access.
Queer Bible’s motto is “Know Your History. Live Your Present.” And they help us all do just that. “We are revealing our sometimes hidden history, anchoring us in our rich history, engaging our community with innovative content, and encouraging us to look forward to the future,” reads their About-us section.
I love their Instagram page because they share stories of queer folks who aren’t well known textbook names. They share intimate stories of small town queers who were simply living their lives, being out and brave. We need to pay homage to every elder, and this is a display of how queer existence is resistance. Plain and simple.
This Instagram is so beautifully curated with art, film and history – all related to dykes! What more could we ask for to have in our photostream? The curation makes important captions about visibility and representation — seeing queer bodies love on other queer bodies is empowering and affirming. It literally saves the lives of young queer kids struggling with their identity. She makes it known exactly why documenting lesbian history is vital for our survival.
. . #CatiriaReyes (1959 – May 3, 1999), better known as #LadyCatiria, was a Puerto Rican drag performer, film actress, and transgender beauty pageant winner who died of AIDS. Lady Catiria was one of the main performers at the NYC Latino nightclub #LaEscuelita for nearly 20 years. She was the first person to win two titles at the Miss Continental pageant in Chicago. Toward the end of her life, she became an advocate for AIDS awareness. In 1993, Lady Catiria won the Miss Continental Plus pageant, and went on to win the Miss Continental pageant in 1995. It was while preparing for this competition that she learned that she was #HIVpositive. That same year, Lady Catiria and made a cameo in the film ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar’ (1995) in the Webster Hall drag pageant scene. Lady Catiria announced she was HIV positive at the 1996 Miss Continental show during her last performance as reigning title holder. She wore a custom-made plain black gown with an AIDS ribbon made of rhinestones on the collar. . In February 1999, Lady Catiria received a farewell tribute at La Escuelita but was unable to attend due to chemotherapy treatment for AIDS related Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions that had developed in her lungs. #whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids.
The AIDS epidemic ravaged our community in ways that we could not imagine at the time — out of that came The AIDS Memorial and many other forms of LGBTQ activism that literally saved lives. The Instagram account of the AIDS Memorial honors the 100,000+ people who have died from AIDS. Remembering those who we senselessly lost to this illness is vital to understand why we need to continue fighting for equal rights, regardless of gender or sexuality.
What is your favorite way to learn more about LGBTQ history? Leave us a comment to let us know!