This post is a short and incomplete history of the word Queer. (Becoming Visible, An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life In Twentieth-Century America; Molly McGarry and Fred Wasserman gives an in-depth history through the 1990s.)
The characters in The Winter Loon live in an era where women who formed lifelong partnerships would not have considered or called themselves queer and most likely not even lesbian. It was an era when articles, vice reports, psychologists like Havelock Ellis, and authors like Radcliffe Hall who wrote The Well of Loneliness, used terms like pervert, deviant, and invert to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. It was an era when same-sex partners, seeking to live, work and play as productive citizens, kept their love and lives hidden.
I can’t imagine how difficult and frightening it must have been to live a concealed life in that era. It is especially close for me because I wrote The Winter Loon based on what I knew of my mother’s life. She was a rodeo performer, a clinical psychologist and always had a woman companion who I believe was her lover during the Thirties and Forties. I wanted to explore and write a novel that shined a light on how different life was in the 1930s for lesbians.
During World War II, thousands of lesbians and gay men met others like themselves and began to realize they were part of a larger group.
In 1951, Donald Webster Cory wrote a book called The Homosexual in America. He observed that most homosexuals at the time hid their sexuality because of shame and fear of social persecution. He stated that only when people dared to be open could others do the same. A few courageous people took the challenge, but persecution and fear held more back.
There were changes during the 1960s with the Stonewall Riots and demonstrations for Equality for Homosexuals. Gay liberation was threatened by society’s definition of homosexuality as a mental illness until 1974. Anger spilled over in the decade of the Seventies. In the 1980s and 1990s the AIDS epidemic led to political activism in the gay community. The Nineties became the Year of the Queer.
We’re here! We’re queer!
We’re fabulous! Get used to it!
~Queer Nation Chant
Queer Nation is an LGBT activist organization founded in New York City in March 1990 by AIDS activists from ACT UP New York (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Those who rejected the terms gay and lesbian as too limiting and mainstream, proudly adopted the self-designation, queer. Diversity has been a source of strength for activism and the controversy continues as lives, attitudes and politics change.
The Twenty-first century so far carries on the tradition of changing labels and use of terms to describe the LGBT community. Today, LGBTQ+ represents the diverse experiences of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and allies.
Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ people through its threefold mission of support, education, and advocacy. Find out more at:
A definition of “Queer” from PFLAG: