Amy Heath-Carpentier, who teaches “Gender Analysis for International Affairs,” brings both local and global perspectives to LGBTQ+ history.
As Pride Month comes to an end, we must reflect and understand that Pride has not always been what it is now, and for many other countries, it isn’t a simply a celebration. According to Amy Heath-Carpentier, a lecturer in global studies and scholar of gender, religion, and sexuality, Pride is also built on protest — it was and is political. Yet without Pride’s history of conflict and bravery, we would not have this month of celebration, acceptance, and gratitude.
Historically, there seems to be a sparce account of LGBTQ+ representation. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t mean that the community didn’t exist. In some cases, this information may have been repressed, but just as frequently, LGBTQ+ experiences were not defined like they are today. Historians recount instances of women cohabitating together as lifelong companions but not being considered homosexual at the time. This was especially true in reference to a generation of women Heath-Carpentier studies who were interested in “new ways of living” in 1910s Ireland. These women pursued many political causes, including Irish independence and women’s suffrage, but they also explored vegetarianism and new models of womanhood.
In her research, Heath-Carpentier asks how these Irish women’s experiences conformed to or varied from their heterosexual counterparts. While they aren’t homosexual on paper, their everyday lives seem to mirror a relationship that was more than basic camaraderie.
“You must look beyond just living together. Did they combine their finances, were they buried together, did they write one another into their wills, and did their families talk about them as if they were a couple?” Heath-Carpentier said.
The term “lesbian” wasn’t really used colloquially until the mid-to-later 1900s, so this phenomenon hadn’t really been characterized. However, historians now consider some politically active men and women from the Irish fight for independence as LGBTQ+. “There were several men and women who participated in the 1916 Easter Rising who we today might consider part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Heath-Carpentier explained.
Heath-Carpentier’s personal experience with Pride in St. Louis exhibits rebellion at the local level. In June of 1995, she collaborated on a mass relationship blessing ceremony in Lafayette Park with a group of ministers, allies, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. “This was so political, but also showed solidarity,” Heath Carpentier said. “It showed how many people were present and supporting both each couple’s marriage and gay marriage more broadly. At the same time, it was a mass wedding with all the joy and love that accompanies that life milestone as well. Pride was revolutionary — it was a very political act.”
Pride has evolved very quickly, Heath-Carpentier says, but we cannot disregard that this isn’t the reality in all places — in the U.S. or internationally. In parts of the world, same-sex relations are illegal or even punishable by death. In other places, discussions around topics like same-sex marriage can still be very taboo. For example, while St. Louis’s Gateway Men’s and CHARIS choirs perform openly, members of the Beijing Queer Chorus often conceal their identity with masks. For the St. Louis choirs, this is just another collaborative performance. For their Chinese counterparts, this is a potential risk — they perform with the mask on to avoid punishment, harassment, and outing. This leads to a question: what do people risk in other parts of the world?
Contemporary scholars, artists, and historians help reveal the history of the LGBTQ+ community and expand understandings of how this community lived in the past. With every new bit of information, those who are homosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and other LGBTQ+ identifying people are getting the representation that they deserve but that was for so long hidden.