LGBTQ+ History Month: Interview with Sarah Prager

Not only is October LGBTQ+ History Month, but October 11 is National Coming Out Day.

To mark these two events today, we’re featuring Sarah Prager, author of the award-winning Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017), illustrated by Zoe More O’Ferrall, as well as her forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, illustrated by Sarah Papworth). Sarah has also developed the Quist mobile app (quistapp.com), a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history in youth-friendly ways.

 

Let’s welcome Sarah to the Mixed-Up Files blog today to discuss a topic that’s important to her.

Hi, Sarah! We’re celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, so your books are the perfect lead-in to this topic. Can you tell us a bit about this celebration and how it ties to your books?

LGBTQ+ History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. every October for 25 years, and we owe its foundation to a high school teacher. LGBTQ+ history education has the power to save and improve lives, and I’ve loved being an educator on it for the last six years. Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History is an illustrated collection of biographies that celebrate some of the most amazing folks our history books forgot to mention.

What made you choose this topic?

When I came out at the age of 14, I found a sense of community in teaching myself about my LGBTQ+ ancestors. Figures like Sappho let me know that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t the first one to feel this way. That was incredibly powerful for me, and I wanted to bring that same representation to the next generation. Of course, this topic is important not just for LGBTQ+ youth but for everyone of all identities to understand that LGBTQ+ people have always been here, are not some fad, and have shaped the world as we know it.

What historical periods will your forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries, address?

This book has stories from as early as the 300s BC! We go all the way up through the present day, featuring people from ancient China (200s BC Han Dynasty), al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Spain in the 900s), turn-of-the-century Paris, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the Soviet Union. All in all, there are ten different centuries represented.

Who are some of the people you researched and what did you discover about them?

It was hard to narrow it down to the fifty who ended up being featured, but the ones who made the cut all have gripping stories. There’s Chevaliere d’Eon (1728-1810, France), the spy who transitioned while serving abroad; there’s Frieda Belinfante (1904-1995, the Netherlands), the lesbian who forged identity documents for Jews during World War II; and there’s Navtej Johar (1959-present, India), the gay Bharatanatyam dancer who brought a case against the Indian Supreme Court to decrimanalize homosexuality…and won!

What was the most interesting or surprising fact you found?

One story I had never heard of before researching this book was about Maryam Khatoon Molkara (1950-2012, Iran). In 1987, she single-handedly got a powerful ayatollah to publicly approve of gender affirmation surgery for trans people!

Can you share a favorite anecdote?

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002, U.S.) and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992, U.S.) have always been favorite LGBTQ+ historical figures for me. Sylvia had this “I’m gonna say it even if you’re uncomfortable hearing it” attitude that is so admirable and Marsha was known for being incredibly kind to everyone who came across her path. They were best friends and together created a movement against all odds. They both experienced a lot of violence and oppression (including from within the gay community) but they persevered.

How have views of LGBTQ+ identity changed over time?

A common misconception is that we’ve gone in a straight (no pun intended) line from hate and discrimination for centuries towards the fight for liberation in the last 50 years. Actually, there was an incredible diversity of queerness around the world, oftentimes accepted and celebrated and normalized, for centuries before the arrival of European invaders. It was the colonial era that made worldwide hatred of queerness the norm. Apart from that influence, we see societies with three or more genders or with bisexuality as the norm, as a couple examples. Every time and place has had totally different ways of understanding and labeling what we’d today call LGBTQ+ identities, way too many to name. While words like “gay” and “trans” are new, the concepts are not.

Why is this topic important for middle graders?

This topic is important for all ages, but I think middle graders are in a place where they are ready to start re-examining what they learned in elementary school, like was Christopher Columbus really as heroic as they were told. They’re also becoming ready to look at historical figures as real people who had full lives including crushes and dates and questioning themselves. I think it is the perfect time to introduce a book like this that may complicate the way they look at history.

Thank you for being with us. We appreciate sharing your insights, and we’re looking forward to your new release.

Blurb for Rainbow Revolutionaries

Take a journey through the lives of fifty revolutionary queer figures who made history in this groundbreaking illustrated biography collection from the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere.

Did you ever wonder who invented the computer? Or who advised Martin Luther King Jr. on his nonviolent activism?

Author Sarah Prager and illustrator Sarah Papworth bring to life the vibrant histories of fifty pioneering LGBTQ+ people our history books forgot to mention. Delve into the lives of Wen of Han, a Chinese emperor who loved his boyfriend as much as his people; Martine Rothblatt, a trans woman who’s helping engineer the robots of tomorrow; and so many more.

From athletes (Billie Jean King) to doctors (Magnus Hirschfeld) and activists (Marsha P. Johnson) to painters (Frida Kahlo), LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on every century of human existence. This book is a celebration of the many ways these hidden heroes have made a difference and will inspire young readers to make a difference, too.

About Sarah Prager

Sarah Prager is the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017, YA, HarperCollins) and the forthcoming Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, MG, HarperCollins). Queer, There, and Everywhere received numerous accolades including three starred reviews and being named a 2017 Best Book for Teens by New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Prager also created the Quist mobile app in 2013, a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history to thousands around the world (quistapp.com). Her writing has been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost, and many other publications, and she has spoken to over 125 audiences across five countries on the topic of LGBTQ+ history. Prager lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their two young children.

Connect with Sarah:

Laurie J. Edwards
Laurie J. Edwards planned to run away when she was nine. She didn’t get far before she realized she’d miss her pet parakeet, so she slept on the back patio. That started her on a life of travel that has led to many interesting adventures, including stepping on a lizard in Africa, climbing a Korean mountain in flip-flops, strolling the streets of Venice in a cat costume, and eating deep-fried water beetles (yum!) in China. You can find out more about her and her books at her website.

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