Rainbow Rant: Trick or treat your way through Queer and Trans history

Joy Ellison
Phyllis Lyon (left) and Del Martin, founders of Daughters of Bilitis, photo by Liz Megelsdorf/AP

Halloween is deliciously queer. When I was a child, Halloween was a perfect excuse to wear gender non-conforming outfits in public. Now, it's a great reason for a party, a scary movie and an attempt to hex homophobic politicians.

Halloween doesn't just seem a little queer; the holiday has a surprisingly historical significance to the LGBTQ community. Test your knowledge of Halloween Queer and Trans History with this quiz:

Trick: Which famous LGBTQ leaders met on Halloween night in 1963?

A.Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, founders of Daughters of Bilitis

B.James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, black queer literary luminaries

C.Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, founders of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries

Treat: C. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two transgender women of color who were key participants in the Stonewall Riots, met on Halloween night in New York City. Rivera was with a group of Latina queens when she spotted Johnson. “This one queen named Louisa snatched Marsha's wig,” she wrote. “Well, Marsha wasn't going to have it. When she caught up to Louisa up on 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue she beat the living daylights out of her.” Later, Johnson introduced herself to Rivera and took her out to eat. They began a friendship that served as the basis for their ground-breaking organizing for queer and transgender liberation.

Trick: Which laws criminalizing LGBTQ people were often relaxed on Halloween?

A.Restrictions against serving alcohol to LGBTQ people

B.Anti-crossdressing ordinances

C.Prohibitions against dancing with a person of the same gender

Treat: B. Anti-crossdressing ordinances

In many US cities, including Columbus, local laws restricted wearing clothing that did not correspond to one's assigned birth gender until the 1970s. These laws effectively criminalized the existence of transgender people, butches and other gender non-conforming queer people. They especially impacted poor transgender women and people of color. Yet, on Halloween these laws were relaxed in many locations. Of course, cops still had plenty of other legal means to harass transgender and queer people. Nonetheless, this history helps to explain the significance of this holiday to our communities.

Trick: Which future U.S. president was protested by a picket line of costumed ACT UP demonstrators on Halloween in 1989?

A.Ronald Reagan

B.Bill Clinton

C.Donald Trump

Treat: C. Donald Trump wasn't a politician in 1989, but queer and trans people already knew that he was a threat. ACT UP, one of the first AIDS-related organizations in the United States, protested at Trump Tower, claiming that Donald Trump's discriminatory practices as a real estate tycoon were contributing to the lack of affordable housing options for people living with HIV. Demonstrators wore costumes and carried signs with slogans like “Nightmare on Trump Street.” Six people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, illegal trespassing and resisting arrest.

Whether you spend October 31 partying, protesting or at home on the couch, I hope you enjoy one of the queerest nights of the year.