Matthew Riemer is shocked how many people think the Stonewall Riots were the beginning of the LGBT liberation movement.
“We are teaching kids from the get-go that their history started in 1969. It’s ridiculous,” Riemer says. “As queer people, we’re this group who have been denied our history.”
He and his partner Leighton Brown, both attorneys and Washington residents, run the popular @lgbt_history Instagram account and are now coming out with a book on the history of LGBT activism. “We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation” (Ten Speed Press) will be released on Tuesday, May 7 and its two authors sat down with the Blade for an interview. They’ll be at Solid State Books (600 H St., N.E.) on Wednesday, May 8. It’s free and starts at 7 p.m.
The men created the account as a personal project after realizing they didn’t know much about their own history themselves.
Riemer does the text-based research and Brown finds photos for the account.
“We were just on a personal quest to learn, and we had gotten a little bit obsessive about it,” Brown says.
“A little bit obsessive” probably doesn’t do justice to the account or the research the two men have conducted.
Brown and Riemer first posted on Jan. 17, 2016. Just over three years later, they have nearly 5,000 posts and about 380,000 followers.
Each post is an image of an event in LGBT history or simply a historical photograph of LGBT people. These photos are accompanied by anywhere from a few lines to multiple paragraphs of descriptive text.
Recent posts include a picture of the “How Gay is Gay” cover from TIME in 1979. Under it is a description of the article, which discussed the rise of gays and lesbians choosing to live openly.
Another features an image of trans activist Marsha P. Johnson in Hoboken, N.J., on Easter Sunday.
Both men say the account has seen gradual growth to where it is today.
“It’s been just steady progress,” Brown says, while also noting that Laverne Cox regrammed a couple of their photos in the early stages.
Riemer wants to emphasize that the account is more than just another social media page. It’s become a well-research archive for LGBT history.
“We hope we are taken seriously and we believe we deserve to be taken seriously,” Riemer says. “We don’t write anything that can’t be backed up with primary, or at least secondary, sources.”
They cite those sources, too.
“We’ve been very serious about crediting and, when it’s possible, tagging photographers, archivists and activists or whoever is in the picture,” Riemer says.
Brown and Riemer love the platform Instagram provides them. But they also realize it comes with restrictions.
“The account is limiting not only in that it’s 2,200 characters but also in that queer history is really all connected,” Riemer says. “We weren’t able to show that on the account. There’s no hyperlinking. We don’t know if people are reading the captions. And we don’t know when people started following.”
That’s how the idea of a book emerged. “We Are Everywhere” comes out in a few days, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
But its content stretches back long before Stonewall and details LGBT history up until the early 2000s in a near-chronological manner. Chapters include large glossy images, curated by Brown, and accompanying narrative, written by Riemer.
And it doesn’t focus on the events one might expect to see.
“You don’t read that much about gays in the military or gay marriage,” Riemer says of the book. “We want to talk about queer history, our history, not our story of how we related to the straight people.”
Reimer remembers that when he first came out as gay, he “tried to be the straight-gay.” “A lot of us did that and still do, especially gay, cis white men,” he says.
His research into LGBT history changed his mind on how he had to act and who he had to be.
“We don’t fit into the broader society,” Brown says. “And that’s great,” Riemer chimes in.
“The book isn’t just about a few moments where we have had some clear advancement with respect to the larger society,” Brown says. “It’s about all the good and bad that got us to that advancement and the setbacks in between.”
And it took hours of archival research to put the book together. Riemer left his job as an attorney to work on the book full time when he and Brown signed the deal with Ten Speed Press.
He started writing the text over a year ago and visited more than 10 archives across the country as well as a bunch more online to weave the book together.
“We just wanted to get it right, and it’s been absolutely exhausting,” Riemer says.
The book has already received praise from giants within the LGBT community.
Anderson Cooper, who also follows the @LGBT_History Instagram account, wrote: “Our history hasn’t been taught in schools; it’s been passed from person to person, whispered through the ages, often in the dark of night between lovers. But whisper no more. Here we are, in these pages — our pride and power, our blood and tears, our love and laughter. This is our fight, our history, and we must learn it.”
Now that the book is finished and its release is around the corner, Riemer and Brown are focusing on promoting it. They have events at college campuses across the country and in June, they’re slated to speak at the LGBT Center in New York.
“We Are Everywhere,” the two men hope, brings to life the stories of the radicals of the LGBT liberation movement.
“What we’ve found is it’s always been the craziest, the most outlandish, the loudest — the ones who the mainstreamers say, ‘We’re not all like that’ — those were the ones who create the space for the rest of us,” Riemer says.