We Had A Very Gay Chat With The Creators Of TikTok’s Rainbow History Class
From historical figures to fashion, film, and everything else, they're determined to make queer history accessible to everyone.
If you’re an Aussie queer on TikTok, you’ve probably come across the Rainbow History Class.
Co-Created by Hannah McElhinney and Rudy Rigg, TikTok’s Rainbow History Class account is for all the queer and history you weren’t taught at school. The project only turned one at the beginning of this year and has amassed well over 400,000 followers and almost 10 million likes. They also have a book coming out next year, and even had a live show at Mardi Gras this year.
The channel features regular one to three-minute videos on LGBTIQ history — everything from historical figures, fashion, film, movements, events, and accessories. Along with the main host Rudy Rigg and a faculty of substitute teachers, Rainbow History Class is on a mission to make sure queer history is accessible.
“I had the idea for rainbow history class when I was just thinking about having a terrible time in high school,” co-founder Hannah McElhinney says. “Later in my 20s when I started to discover queer history, I realised there was so much brilliant stuff there. I felt really connected to my identity and a genuine sense of pride. We all know the feeling of coming out of high school with a lot of phobias. So finding these kinds of stories was really helpful. If I’d been given the opportunity to learn these stories in school, I would have come out much sooner.
“I had this idea what I was experiencing wasn’t just me feeling like a freak, but something that has existed since the beginning of time and there are millions of people throughout history just like me, and so many of them have actually fought for me. So, you get this vision of an army of historical figures standing behind you and you feel less alone.”
Rigg feels the same way. For him, RHC is a personal project that gave him purpose. “When I tell you Rainbow History Class came out of nowhere and changed my life there are no other words I can use to describe that. It was exactly what I was looking for and a million times more. In every alternate universe, it’s this,” he tells me.
Education And Self-Discovery
Together with producer Amina Soubjaki, they set out to help other queer folks and their allies learn about the past of those just like them, and they each have their favourite topics.
For Rigg, he’s all about the history of gender. “I found a passion in exploring the history of pre-colonial gender. I really like looking at the intersection between sexuality and gender. I am autistic and I realised that perhaps there was intersectionality between being autistic and my gender identity. Purely through me learning about that part of myself, I also learned it was maybe connected to my gender identity too,” he says.
As for McElhinney, she loves all things lesbian and history. “There are a lot of lesbian symbols and fashion ideas that lesbians have used to create these communities throughout history. That really helps people be in awe of lesbians. They were persecuted on many levels on both gender and sexuality and so the way that they had to build community and create these little flags of identity to recognise each other has made me feel very proud and connected.
“Now, when I learn about them, I do them as well. Now, I wear a carabiner on my pants,” she laughs. If you want to know more about lesbians and carabiners be sure to check out this RHC TikTok:
Rainbow History’s faculty is growing too, regularly platforming queer folks the world over who want to share their culture’s queer history. “It’s incredible because we’ve built this amazing network of queer creators across the world who don’t just speak English and aren’t from our particular background. So, we’re able to provide a more holistic experience of our community,” says Rigg. Guests on RHC have included Filipina queens Tila Pila and Virginia Please, lesbian fashion historian Eleanor Medhurst, educator Benjy Kusi, and many more.
But of course, no one can teach or engage in history without the dreaded D-word: discourse. For the queer community, the progression of rights and technology means we’re always living in unprecedented times. It also means different generations of queer folks experience queerness differently, despite sharing so much in common.
“The saddest thing within the community is when people rip others down who might have existed in a different time who used different words, and to whom those words mean different things,” says McElhinney. “What young people are doing now in the discourse space is so important and they’re moving it along, but there does seem to be a lack in a bridge that respects and acknowledges where the fights been and also carries the proverbial torch. What we try and do is build a bridge.”
All Rainbow History Class content is streaming on TikTok for free, but McElhinney and Rigg want you to know that if you want to support them, you can check out their merch and website.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher, and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.