With her project Rainbow History Class, Hannah McElhinney has worn many hats: social media producer, writer, author, performer – and now, podcast host.

Since 2021, the Melbourne-based creative has been educating hundreds of thousands of followers about lesser-known parts of queer history. Alongside co-creator Rudy Jean Rigg, McElhinney has canvassed a broad and colourful range of topics: from ancient Greek armies comprising only pairs of male lovers, to secret queer languages, to why lesbians and carabiners go hand in hand.

“I was not taught any queer history at school, and I started looking into it for personal interest,” McElhinney tells Broadsheet. “I found out that there was so much cool stuff that the community had created – everything from language, art, fashion, culture, activism … If I’d had access to learning about them, maybe I might have come out sooner, and that experience might have been more joyful.”

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McElhinney and Rigg started posting on Tiktok around the time the app exploded in the lockdown years. Their one-minute explainer videos quickly attracted a following across the globe. Then came a book, released in 2023, and live appearances, including a TEDx talk and a show at Sydney World Pride.

Rainbow History Class, the podcast, released its first episode in February. Making a podcast was always part of the plan, McElhinney says, but the timing hadn’t been right – until now. “The growing conservative swing means that the landscape has changed for LGBTQI+ people as a collective, and we wanted to evolve with that … doing longer-form things and going a bit deeper.”

So far, the show has covered topics such as cryptids, Taylor Swift, and the early 2000s Russian girl band tATu. It’s about linking the headlines of today to their historical roots – and sometimes getting a little petty satisfaction. “JK Rowling told somebody who said that trans people were persecuted during the Holocaust to check their sources, so we did an episode on that because she was asking for it. We were able to be like, ‘Cool. Here is the entire history of that, JK Rowling,’” McElhinney deadpans.

Researching for Rainbow History Class, McElhinney has often had to find her own way – queer people have largely been left out of the history books, been written about by non-queer historians, or had their identities erased – even within the community. “In the current climate of Instagram, where we’re ‘yassifying’ people in the past, we can lose a lot of nuance on who they were.”

McElhinney points to Marsha P Johnson as an example. “She’s been posthumously made the face of the whole queer rights movement, and she was an important part of it … But what really gets left out of her story is the fact that she was also disabled, because that’s just not what people focus on.”

By including such details, Rainbow History Class aims to present a more accurate and intersectional version of events. Moving away from a colonial lens is also important – McElhinney consults with people from all around the world, from academics to fans of the project, to gather different perspectives. There are also what she calls “informants” – people who live in countries where being out isn’t safe, but who will tip her off on interesting stories or facts.

The future seems bright for Rainbow History Class in all its forms. Growing the podcast is the focus for now, but McElhinney hopes to travel the world to meet more listeners and hear their stories. “We’d love to go to the US, because a lot of our audience are in the more conservative states,” she says. “The internet is a way to access this queer history, but we’d love to take it over there.”

Download and listen to Rainbow History Class on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. New episodes drop weekly.

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

Read our previous interview with Hannah McElhinney here.