Recovering Queer Identities

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07/18/2020

In the Castro District, the well-known hub of San Francisco’s gay community, bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks honor famous LGBTQ individuals from around the world. Recognizing ancestors has a long pedigree in LGBTQ activism, dating back to 19th-century efforts to repeal sodomy laws in Germany. For generations, doing so allowed queer people to feel a sense of kinship with the past. It also enabled them to dispute those who argued that homosexuality, along with other queer gender and sexual identities, is an aberration of the modern world. Campaigners could point to ancients such as the poet Sappho or Alexander the Great as proof that homosexuality was neither unnatural nor harmful. Curiously, though, almost every single person in the Rainbow Honor Walk, as the Castro installation is known, is a figure of the 20th or 21st century. The oldest, the two-spirit Zuni tribal leader We’wha, was born in 1849 and died in 1896. There is seemingly no place for those older figures who were once held up as evidence of queerness in history.

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