Influential LGBTQ+ individuals throughout history

Hi Readers!

As you know, it’s pride month! I think it is important to take this opportunity to look back at just a handful of the individuals who have spoken up in defense of or who were activists for the LGBTQ+ community. Each person on this list played an important role in the progression of the LGBTQ+ community. I urge you to do some of your own research to learn more.

Alexya Salvador

Salvador made history when she held Cuba’s first ever LGBTQ+ friendly mass in May 2017 where she was accompanied by other trans* pastors to preach about God’s love and acceptance of the very community that is usually ostracised by religious organisations. She is vice president of the Brazilian Association of Homotransaffective Families (ABRAFH) and became the first trans* person to adopt a child in Brazil.

Alice Nkom

Nkom is a Cameroonian lawyer well known for her advocacy of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Cameroon. She studied law in Toulouse and has been a lawyer in Douala since 1969. At the age of 24, she was the first Black French-speaking woman called to the bar in Cameroon. Alice became best known for her defence of people accused of homosexuality (which is a crime in Cameroon). In 2003 she founded the Association for the Defence of Homosexuality. For her achievements in the fight against an “anti-gay crackdown”, she was listed number two in The New Yorker‘s “The Eight Most Fascinating Africans of 2012” ranking.

Arsham Parsi

Iranian LGBTQ+ human rights activist, founder and head of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees. In 2001, Parsi formed a small LGBT group online called Rangin Kaman (Rainbow Group), which was renamed the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) in 2004. As the PGLO would not be recognized in Iran, a friend of Parsi’s officially registered PGLO in Norway. The PGLO later became the foundation for Parsi’s Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) in 2006. Parsi later left IRQO and founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees in 2008. The organization’s headquarters are in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and they provide services to all self-identified Iranian LGBTQ+ people worldwide.

Audre Lorde

Audre describes herself as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She has dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Lorde is an activist in the second-wave feminism, civil rights and Black cultural movements and has fought for GLBQT equality. Lorde’s poetry is known for the power of its call for social and racial justice, as well as its depictions of queer experience and sexuality.

Barbara Gittings

American activist for LGBTQ+ equality. In the 1970s, Gittings was most involved in the American Library Association in order to promote positive literature about homosexuality in libraries. She was a part of the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness in 1972. Her self-described life mission was to tear down the stigma related to homosexuality, which had been associated with crime and mental illness.

Bayard Rustin

American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence and gay rights. He also testified on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill. Rustin did not engage in any gay rights activism until the 1980s when he was urged to do so by his partner Walter Naegle.

Brenda Howard

American bisexual rights activist, sex-positive feminist and polyamorist. Howard was an important figure in the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. She is known as the “Mother of Pride”. Brenda coordinated the first LGBT Pride March in 1970. A fixture in New York City’s LGBTQ+ Community, Howard was active in the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights which helped guide New York City’s Gay rights law through the City Council in 1986 as well as ACT UP and Queer Nation.

Christine Jorgensen

American transgender woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1945, she was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. After her military service, she attended several schools and worked; it is during this time she learned about sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen traveled to Europe and while in Copenhagen, Denmark obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations beginning in 1952. She returned to the United States in the early 1950s and her transition was the subject of a New York Daily News front-page story. She became an instant celebrity, and used the platform to advocate for trans* people.

Edith Windsor

American LGBTQ+ rights activist and a technology manager at IBM. She was the lead plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court of the United States case United States v. Windsor, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was considered a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States. The Obama Administration and federal agencies extended rights, privileges and benefits to married same-sex couples because of the decision. She volunteered for many LGBTQ+ organizations and served on the board of Service & Advocacy for GLBT Elders between 1986 and 1988 and between 2005 and 2007. In 2011, Edith Windsor helped Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jerrold Nadler introduce the Respect for Marriage Act at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Gilbert Baker

Gilbert Baker was an American artist, gay rights activist and the designer of the Rainbow Flag that debuted back in 1978. He refused to trademark it saying it was a symbol for everyone.

Harvey Milk

American politician and the first openly gay elected official in California, where he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Although he was the most pro-LGBTQ+ politician in the United States at the time, politics and activism were not his early interests; he was neither open about his sexuality nor civically active until he was 40.

In 2008, Milk, a documentary/drama about the story of his life was released starring Sean Penn.

James Baldwin

American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet and activist. His creations intertwine the themes of masculinity, sexuality, race and class to create intricate narratives that run parallel to some of the major political movements for social change in mid-twentieth-century America such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement. Baldwin’s protagonists are often, but not exclusively, African American, while gay and bisexual men also frequently feature as protagonists in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956, well before the Gay Liberation Movement.

Johanna Sigurdardottir

Iceland’s first female Prime Minister and the world’s first openly LGBTQ+ head of government. Forbes listed her among the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2010, Johanna and her then partner got married and became the first same-sex couples in Iceland.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

German lawyer, journalist and author who today is seen as a pioneer of the modern gay rights movement. In August 1867, Ulrichs became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defence of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws.

Laverne Cox

American actress and LGBTQ+ advocate. She rose to prominence with her role as Sophia Burset in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category. Her impact and prominence in the media has led to a growing conversation about transgender culture, specifically transgender women, and how being transgender intersects with one’s race. In May 2016, Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School in New York City for her progressive work in the fight for gender equality.

Michael Sam

American former professional football player. Sam played college football for the Missouri Tigers and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League (NFL) in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft. He played one season for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. Sam is the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.

Magnus Hirschfeld

German physician and sexologist educated primarily in Germany; he based his practice in Berlin-Charlottenburg during the Weimar period. An outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. Historian Dustin Goltz characterized this group as having carried out “the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights”. Hirschfeld was targeted by Nazis for being Jewish and gay.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Often referred to as Miss Major, she is a trans woman activist and community leader for transgender rights. She served as the original Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which aims to assist transgender people, as they are disproportionately incarcerated under the prison-industrial complex. Griffin-Gracy has participated in activism for a wide range of causes throughout her lifetime, including the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was an African American transgender woman and a LGBTQ+ activist and advocate. Johnson spearheaded the Stonewall uprising in 1969. The are numerous movies & books that celebrate her life and accomplishments. There is a documentary called “The Death and Life of Marsha P.Johnson” on Netflix.

RuPaul Charles

Since 2009, he has produced and hosted the reality competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race, for which he has received six Primetime Emmy Awards, in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. RuPaul is considered to be the most commercially successful drag queen in the United States. In 2017, he was included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In 2019, Fortune noted RuPaul is “easily the world’s most famous” drag queen.

Stormé DeLarverie

She is remembered as a gay civil rights icon and entertainer who performed and hosted at the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall. She worked for much of her life as an MC, singer, bouncer, bodyguard and volunteer street patrol worker, often called the “guardian of lesbians in the Village.” She is also known as “the Rosa Parks of the gay community.”

Sylvia Rivera

Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist, prominent as an activist and community worker in New York. Rivera, who identified as a drag queen, participated in demonstrations with the Gay Liberation Front. With close friend Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women.

Zanele Muholi

Muholi has produced a number of photographic series investigating the severe disconnect that exists in post-apartheid South Africa between the equality promoted by its 1996 Constitution and the ongoing bigotry and violent acts targeting individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. As an ensemble, Muholi’s images display the depth and diversity of this group in South Africa and in various countries that the artist has visited. There is an exhibition of Zanele Muholi’s work at the Tate Modern until 18 October 2020

I hope you learnt something new and that reading about these amazing people has inspired you to further your knowledge about the some of the most influential individuals of the LGBTQ+ community.

Be kind to one another,

Julia, Sexologist

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