By Kirsten Petersen
Sarah Prager is not a historian, but that didn’t stop her from turning her dream of creating an LGBTQ history app into reality.
The Berwyn Heights resident created Quist, a free iPhone and Android application that presents events from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) and HIV history for each day of the year.
“I think LGBT history is something that is happening everyday,” Prager said. “I think people are excited about it because they can be a part of it.”
Each event is accompanied by a summary, an image, and links to additional websites and videos. App users can also explore events by year, month and day or location. Sharing events is easy—the app composes a Tweet for any event, leading with the phrase, “Did you know that…”
Prager said that she chose the mobile app format because it’s the most effective way to reach her audience.
“Today’s generation is used to getting their information in headlines, digestible, quick, cool-looking ways,” Prager said. “I wanted to bring this information to them where they are and make it engaging.”
Prager said the idea for the app had been in the back of her mind for a few years, but she was encouraged to make it happen after advocating for Question 6 during the 2012 election.
“It was really emotional to volunteer, talk to people and ask them to vote for my civil rights,” Prager said.
When voters in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington decided to support same-sex marriage in their states last November, Prager realized she was a part of history in the making.
“Being a part of it inspired me to work so hard and so quickly on the app,” Prager said.
She got to work on the app, finding 80 percent of the listed events on her own in the first four months. To find events for the app, Prager consulted books, websites, museums and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn.
Every event in the app had to have a month, a day and a year, Prager said, otherwise she couldn’t include it. Some events that are particularly significant for the LGBTQ community did not have exact dates, so Prager and her team of volunteers tried to identify the dates on their own.
When choosing events, they selected ones that were “remarkable for their time.” Today, Prager said, it might not be a big deal if a celebrity comes out or if a marriage equality rally takes place, but these events should be included if they were unique at the time. They also included LGBTQ contributions to society, such as Nobel Prizes and Olympic medals.
“I think the volunteers are excited about it because, if they’re like me, they feel this connection to people from the past,” Prager said. “They find it exciting that someone three hundred years ago had the same feelings and thoughts. We may not be burned at the stake today, but there’s still that fear around coming out for people in the community."
So far, more than 775 events are listed in the app. Prager hopes to reach 1,000 by October, which is LGBT History month.
To make the idea into an app, Prager worked with Natural Fusion, a Baltimore-based web developer, to design the app and started recruiting advertisers, all while holding down a full-time job.
“I’ve been very fortunate because people have volunteered their time or given me generous discounts for their work,” Prager said.
To finance the project, Prager started a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise $6,500. She received modest donations from family and friends, but the most significant donation was given anonymously. Prager received $5,000 from man who named his donation after his nieces. She exceeded her goal by $100.
Since the app launched in late July, it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times. Although the app has been mostly downloaded in the United States, people from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America are using the app. She’s received global media attention for the app, which was even featured on a radio show in Australia.
The popularity of Quist has helped Prager make changes at Apple too.
After updating the app’s description in August and receiving a warning that the app might be rejected if she used the term “bisexual,” she started a petition on Change.org to remove “bisexual” as an unacceptable word, according to the Baltimore Sun.
She received 1,100 signatures in less than 24 hours. Apple quickly responded to the petition and changed the status of the word in the App Store, according to the Quist website.
Prager is accepting event submissions to the app. She said that crowdsourcing submissions is crucial to the purpose of the app.
“These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are people around the world who have different identities and come from different generations who know a lot more than I do,” Prager said. “Since I want this project to reflective of today’s generation, people submitting has to be part of it.”
She encourages all young people interested in making an impact like Quist to get started today.
“Go for it! If you have the excitement for it like I did for this project, all you have to do is get started,” Prager said. “You don’t need to be an expert. Just be excited about it and you can make it happen.”This article has been edited to clarify that same-sex marriage was on ballots in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington in November, 2012.