What do Freddie Mercury, Celebrate Bisexuality Day, and ACT UP all have in common? Quite frankly a lot of things, but for the purposes of this article September. As the LGBTQIA+ Archives continues to create our 365-day calendar, we wanted to focus on these three moments and people in queer history for the month of September.
Freddie Mercury – September 5th
Born on September 5th, 1946, Farrokh Bulsara, known later for his stage name Freddie Mercury, was an internationally famous rockstar, musician, and bisexual icon. He is remembered most as a founder and lead singer for the band Queen. From his birth until he was a young adult he spent his life in Zanzibar and in 1964 moved with his family to Middlesex, England. With Brian May and Roger Taylor he formed Queen in 1970.
The HIV/AIDS Crisis was looming in the background during the height of his career, and like many others at the time contracted the virus in 1987. Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991 at the age of 45 due to complications.
Freddie Mercury’s bisexual identity and background from Zanzibar are often erased or glossed over but they are beginning to become more accepted as communities have pushed for his recognition.
Celebrate Bisexuality Day – September 23rd
Every year on September 23rd, Celebrate Bisexuality Day is recognized. The first official celebration occurred in South Africa in 1999. The date was said to be chosen because of it being the month of Freddie Mercury’s birth, and then the 23rd because it fell upon Gigi Raven Wilbur’s birthday, one of the leading organizers for bisexual rights at the time. The day occurs to promote awareness of bisexuality and bisexual erasure, which can occur within both gay and straight communities.
We were sitting around at one of the annual bi conventions, venting and someone – I think it was Gigi – said we should have a party. We all loved the great bisexual, Freddie Mercury. His birthday was in September, so why not Sept? We wanted a weekend day to ensure the most people would do something. Gigi’s birthday was Sept 23rd. It fell on a weekend day, so, poof! We had a day.Wendy Curry, Bisexual Activist and Celebrate Bisexuality Day Organizer
ACT UP Infiltrates the New York Stock Exchange – September 14th
On September 14th, 1989 a large rally was planned at the New York Stock Exchange, like many others that ACT UP had planned before. While hundreds rallied outside the NYSE, a small group of organizers infiltrated the building to protest the price of a medicine that was new at the time for HIV/AIDS, azidothymidine (AZT).
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, ACT UP, was known for its direct action response to the HIV/AIDS crisis which would gain media attention, helping to promote awareness of the epidemic which was devastating LGBTQIA+ communities. The organization, formed in 1987, successfully demonstrated at several institutions with some notable events targeting Wall Street, the Catholic Church, the National Institutes of Health, and perhaps their most memorable being the FDA which led to a single day shut-down.
At the time of its formation, the LGBTQIA+ community had watched former President Ronald Reagan have no response to the growing crisis. The actions organized by the ACT UP advocates were necessary to push the narrative, which in many places marginalized queer voices and treated the health crisis as a divine punishment. The actions of the ACT UP organizers, which resulted in lower drug prices and more urgent response from leaders, demonstrate the importance of activism, direct action, and organizing LGBTQIA+ communities to respond to our needs.