As Pride Month comes to a close and we celebrate Pride Day today, I am continuing to reflect on the incredible impact individuals of the LGBTQ community have had on our world. This list represents a fraction of the individuals who have fought to make our world a better, more inclusive place.
From 1200's to the 2020's, these eighteen remarkable individuals have bravely used their voices to fight for justice, equality and change. Their legacies will not soon be forgotten.
Harvey Milk: San Franscisco Native, Harvey Milk, was California's first openly gay person to be elected into public office. Within this role, Harvey Milk fought for the rights of LGBTQ run businesses, the rights and protection of gay teachers and promoted anti-discrimation legistation. Tragically, in 1978, a former city Supervisor assassinated both Milk and Mayor George Moscone. That night, thousands of candle-holding people silently marched from Castro Street to City Hall. This event is still recognized as one of the most beautiful responses to violence that the community has ever seen.
Edie windsor: When Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned in 2013, people around the country celebrated but did you know Edie Windsor played a huge part in this happening? In 2007, Edie married Thea Spyer, her longtime partner of more than 40 years, in Canada. At the time their marriage was only reconized in Canada and New York but the couple could not enjoy the benefits that same-sex married couples had. In 2009, Spyer passed away, leaving Windsor with over $300,000 in estate taxes. In an act of remarkable bravery, Windsor sued the federal government on the grounds that DOMA definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman was unconstitutional. 4 years later, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court Ruled in favor of Windsor and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned.
Ellen Degeneres: In 1997, televison star Ellen DeGeneres announced that she was gay and changed the landscape of television and entertainement forever. She paved the way for more openly LGBTQ characters on screen. A decade later, in February 2007, DeGeneres hosted the 79th Academy Awards ceremony, making her the first openly gay person to have hosted the event.
Bayard Rustin: Bayard Rustin dedicated his life to activism. In the 1960's he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr to facilitate the march on Washington, one of the greatest civil rights demonstrations in our nation's history. Later in his life, he began activating for for gay rights. This included staunchly promoting New York to pass their first gay rights bill and speaking out in hopes of the NAACP to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic.
Barbara Gittings: A true pioneer of her time, Barbara Gittings made a name for herself as one of the first active spokespersons for lesbian rights in the 1950's. In 1958, at just 26 years old, she founded the New York chapter of America’s first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis. Her legacy lives on in her creation of the American Library Association’s bibliography of literature about gays and lesbian, which redefined access to such literature.
Aaron Fricke: 40 years later, Aaron Fricke's bravery is a hallmark for LBGTQ student rights. In 1980, Senior Aaron Fricke was making plans to attend his highschool prom with a member of the same gender. The principle staunchly forbid this, stating that no couples of the same sex would be permitted to attend the prom. Not to be deterred, Fricke took his school to court and won.
Martina Navratilova: By 1981, Martina Navratilova had already begun making a name for herself as an exceptional tennis player. The Czech-American had won Wimbledon twice when she came out as a lesbian. Almost overnight, Navratilova lost nearly all of her endorsements. Over the next several years, she continued to fight, both on the court and as an advocate for LBGTQ rights.
Marsha P Johnson: Marsha P Johnson was on the frontlines of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, an event that changed the landscape of hte LGBTQ movement forever. When the police raided the gay bar, the patrons protested. This event was a catalyst for Johnson and thousands of others around the nation. Johnson continued to support the LGBTQ communites admist the AIDS crisis and actively worked to increase accessibility to lifesaving AIDS medication.
Leonard Matlvich: Leonard Matlvich is reconized as one of the first gay men to come out on their miltary platform. After spending several years fighting in Vietnam, Matlvich eventually made the brave decision to come out to his superiors. Not long after, Matlvich was featured ont he front page of the New York Times, with the headline "I am a Homosexual." This resulted in media backlash but also served as a beacon of hope for people around the world to find the courage to share their own stories. Matlvich was later discharged from the Air Force in light of his admission. His gravestone reads, "”When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.“
Dr. Richard Isay: For centuries, homosexuality was classified as an "Illness" by the American Pysciatric Association. Though this classification was later changed in the 1970's many doctors still approached patients with hopes of "curing" them of their affliction. Dr. Richard Isay served as a true pioneer as one of hte first well-known psychiatrists to encourage his homosexual patients to simply be themselves. His prestige and own experience as a gay man, served as catalyst for change within the American Pyscholalitic Association and their commitment to education and equal treatment of patients regardless of sexuality.
Laverne Cox: In 2014, Laverne Cox was awarded the first Emmy nomination for an openly transgender actor for her role on Orange is the New Black. A few years later, she went on to star as a trans character on CBS's show, Doubt. She also works as a film producer, motivational speaker and LGBTQ rights activiest.
Kate Bornstein: Kate Bornstein has been actively speaking about gender non-confirmation for decades. She is an artist, actor and playwright who has been open about her own experience with gender. Kate has been quoted saying, "I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man." Kate identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns she/her, they/them.
Billie Jean King:
Billie Jean King held the world #1 ranking in women's tennis for six years between 1966 and 1975. She is recognized as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Today, Billie Jean King is a social activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for equality, empowerment and access for all.
Jalal al-Din Rumi: Rumi was a Persian poet, born in the 1200's. His love for another man served as inspiration for some of the world's most cherished poems. Rumi wrote with beauty, passion and deep spirituality and left a lasting impact on those that have read his work for centuries to come.
Megan Rapinoe: Megan Rapinoe is a professional soccer star, known for her position on the United States Women's National Team and the Seattle Reign FC. Rapinoe and her girlfriend, Sue Bird, were featured as the first same sex couple of ESPN's Body issue. The very next year, Rapinoe was the first lesbian to pose in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
Pierre Seel: Born in November of 1925, Pierre Seel was a gay Holocaust survivor. He has gone on to testiify as his experience of being deported from France at just 17 years old and imprisoned by Nazi's, during World War II due to his homosexuality. In 1981, after living in silence about his ordeal for decades, Seel decided to speak out and began sharing his story with the world and advocating for justice for other LGBTQ individuals.
Audre Lorde: Born in 1934, Audre Lorde was a Black feminist, lesbian, poet, and mother. She spoke and wrote about the fight for liberation among the oppressed. Her works include A Burst Of Light, The Black Unicorn, and Between Ourselves, amongst others. She was the recipient of the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit.
Jayne County: Jayne County was rock and roll's first transgender star. Her presence has been thought to pave the way for other stars such as David Bowie. Throughout her career County has worked as an actress, performer and musician.
I hope you've enjoyed a brief history on these 18 people that continue to serve as an inspiration to me. This list is far from comprehensive, so I'd love to hear from you and know the LGBTQ voices that have proved impactful in your own life. There is so much we can learn from these individuals. Never stop learning. Never stop listening.