Meet the Queer Agenda
By Madeline English, 06/02/2022
An interview with Madeline English, the founder of The Queer Agenda.
What is the history behind Pride Month?
The history behind Pride Month goes back to the Stonewall Uprisings, which started on June 28th, 1969, and continued until July 3rd. The Stonewall Inn was a mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City that opened in March 1967 after a fire destroyed the original restaurant called Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn. However, it was illegal under the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) for bars to serve gay patrons as early as 1933, so everything at Stonewall was very discreet. A police officer would even come once a week for a payoff known as a “gayola,” a bribe used by police against gay bars. Police raided the Stonewall Inn after a week of police closing down four gay bars in the Village. The Public Morals Squad, the police unit frequently conducting the raids, were used to queer people backing down because of the fear they had of losing their jobs, homes, and even their lives if word got out that they were queer. However, something changed that night.
Trans women such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy got the group of patrons together to go against the police. Still, things would not start escalating until Stormé DeLarverie, a Black lesbian and drag king, was being abused by police, and she called upon the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And do something they did.
Stonewall was not the first queer uprising in history, but it is the one that carries the most weight because it was the first time queer people stood up to the police and weren’t ashamed of who they were. After that, the community began mobilizing very quickly, and the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings. Year after year, more cities took on their own version of a march until it developed into pride parades and festivals!
When did you first start learning about queer history?
I first started learning about queer history in high school! Queer history was not something that I was taught in schools, so I had to seek out the information myself, and it just kept building, almost like a snowball. There’s so much that I’ve been able to learn in the past few years, but there’s still so much I want to know.
Through all of your learning, did you ever encounter an event or historical figure whose story surprised you? If so, why?
There’s always something new that surprises me, but I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned about is one of my more recent research topics. The AIDS crisis always makes me emotional, both to learn about and talk about, but it’s still worth my time and my research. In listening to “Making Gay History” with Eric Marcus on Spotify, he mentioned something quickly about St. Vincent’s hospital in New York and Catholic nuns counseling the partners of those lost to HIV/AIDS. I had never even heard of St. Vincent’s hospital, so obviously, I went down a rabbit hole.
As it turns out, throughout the AIDS crisis, Catholic nuns provided counsel, care, love, and support both to those who were HIV positive and their family members. There was one story of a nun, Sister Carol Baltosiewich, a trained ICU and ER nurse who volunteered to go to New York City to work in the Catholic hospitals on the front lines of the AIDS crisis. In the podcast I listened to, she told a particular story about a young man, Rob, sitting on a bench crying. Rob’s boyfriend, Josh, was HIV positive, and Sister Carol knew both men. She got out of the cab she was in to talk to Rob and ask him what was going on, and he said, “Josh is dying, and I can’t do anything about it.” Sister Carol held this scared young man on the bench for a long time, and the next morning, Josh had died. Sister Carol saw the love and compassion these men had for each other and knew that, despite what others had tried to tell her, she knew there was no way for that love to be wrong. I still can’t describe what hearing that story did to me, but I can confidently tell you that I had to safely pull my car over to cry about it.
How did you get the idea for Queer Agenda?
The idea for Queer Agenda was first planted when I founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at my high school in the Texas Hill Country. It was very conservative and scary at times, but GSA's impact on the students made me want to keep going. I started doing a series on my personal Instagram in 2020 called Queer Person of the Day, where I would post a different person from queer history every day of pride month. It further pushed me into this educator/activist space. I was tired of seeing people talk about doing things to change the status quo and making things safer for queer people, but seeing nothing change. I wanted to do the work. I wanted to do the research and find the resources and educate, and I wanted to do it my way. Thus, the Queer Agenda was born.
What do you hope people will take away from engaging with and learning about queer history?
I hope people walk away with a sense of pride in knowing that queerness has existed for centuries in thousands of cultures, countries, and even species. History can be so affirming in that way because many queer people, especially youth, will get stuck in this feeling of “I am the only person who feels this way, and I am the only person who has ever felt this way.” Even if you have a community or a found family around you, it’s very easy to get trapped in that line of thinking, but the history is there. History tells us that we are not alone in our feelings or our struggles regarding queerness. I also hope people walk away feeling loved. Our elders worked so hard for so long, and even then, they knew change might not be enacted in their lifetimes. They were fighting for us to live as we live today. As queer people existing openly in a post-Stonewall world, we are living our revolutionaries' wildest dreams, and I think that’s the most beautiful thing about queer history.
How can people support the LGBTQ+ community beyond Pride Month?
Buy from small queer-owned businesses. Read our books. Watch our movies. Listen to our music. Call your senators. Tip your local drag queens. Donate time, money, energy to queer organizations. Learn about what microaggressions you may be engaging in (no, it’s not a compliment for you to tell me you couldn’t “tell” I’m a lesbian) and change them. Look in your history books, literature, and your media, and think to yourself, “Whose story am I missing?” Anybody can support the queer community, but it takes work, education, and listening to be an ally.
Photos Courtesy of Audrey Dawson @audreydawson_