It’s now a huge source of pride to be part of the LGBTQ+ community — but it hasn’t always been that way.
Today, we can celebrate our identity with rainbows, parades, and freedom, but history hasn’t always been so kind to members of our community. Even now, it can be hard to belong to a part of society that’s often misunderstood.
But time and time again, LGBTQ+ people have stood up for what they believed in and left their mark on the world, showing everyone how to make a positive difference. So let’s celebrate our identities and the people who pioneer change.
LGBT Historical Figures
Over the years, thousands of LGBTQ historical figures have had an impact, but in my opinion, these seven deserve an extra dose of recognition. If you don’t already know these leaders, you really should so enjoy!
1. Barbara Gittings
Born in 1932, Barbara Gittings is one of the historical LGBT figures who paved the way for our freedom. She was open about her sexuality and a huge advocate for the rights of homosexuals.
She has a lengthy list of work, including heading up the USA’s first every lesbian civil rights organization and fighting with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to stop classing homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder. She’s an absolute queen and was even given the first every civil rights award from the APA.
When it comes to our rights, we owe Barbara Gittings a whole lot.
2. James Baldwin
Born in 1924, James Baldwin struggled growing up as an African-American gay man in an America that was both racist and homophobic. If you ever feel like an outsider, look to Baldwin for inspiration.
But, rather than letting the countries attitudes crush him, he ran to France where he took on their opinions. Using the power of words, he wrote incredible essays that shone a light on how life was for black and LGBTQ+ people at the time. He looked at sexuality, race, and class, highlighting the challenges for everyone to see.
His bravery to stand up for who he was is something we should all take inspiration from.
3. Alan Turing
If you haven’t heard of Alan Turing, you need to look him up. This man was a legend who was treated cruelly by the world, but whose work we should always remember.
During the Second World War, Turing’s code-cracking skills helped the Allies defeat the Nazis. He intercepted their secret messages and was able to unveil their plans, saving countless lives. A man from humble beginnings saved so many, and he was never even acknowledged for his work.
Turing was also a gay, which at this time was a big problem. When it was found out Turing was forced to undergo chemical castration. He later took his own life.
In 2013, Turing was officially pardoned and in a BBC public vote he was awarded ‘The Greatest Person of the 20th Century’. To me, he will always be one of the greatest LGBT people in history.
4. Magnus Hirschfeld
When it comes to people who changed the world for the better, no list is complete without Magnus Hirschfeld. He’s believed to have invented the term ‘Transvestitism’ and led the way for queer and gender non-conforming (GNC) people around the world.
Living as an openly gay man in the late 1800’s, Hirschfeld researched sexuality and campaigned endlessly for gay rights. But his work went further than that. He opened the world’s first-ever gender identity clinic, allowing people to become the gender they truly are. He even helped Einar Wegener to become Lili Elbe, as seen in The Danish Girl.
He pioneered rights for gender non-confirming (GNC) individuals and supported the ability to change gender. For anyone who wants freedom for gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld should be considered an icon.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was often known simply as “Colette”, and she became an icon for queer ladies in the 20th century. As a very openly bisexual woman, she was proud of who she was and often defied what was ‘normal’ at the time.
She switched between masculine and feminine clothing, had relationships with many other women — including the niece of Napoleon, Mathilde de Morny — and kissed them in public. In one famous event, she even kissed Mathilde, also known as Missy, on stage at the Moulin Rouge, prompting the police to be called.
Unabashed, unashamed, and incredibly talented, she wrote incredible novels and lived as herself. If we could all be a little more like Colette each day, the world would be a better place.
6. Audre Lorde
When it comes to famous LGBT activists, Lorde is an icon. Fearless, legendary, and a self-described Black lesbian mother warrior poet, you can’t do anything but love her.
She worked as a librarian before turning her attention to poetry. In 1968, she published her first volume, First Cities. In her poetry, she spoke strongly about sexuality, civil rights, and what it was like to be a black lesbian woman living in America.
Between 1991 and 1992, the year of her death, Lorde was the Poet laureate for New York State. There’s also an Audre Lorde Award dedicated to honor lesbian poetry.
7. RuPaul Andre Charles
Not all people who changed the world are in the past – some are living among us right now. One of those is RuPaul, a legend in the making.
While he isn’t the conventional heroic character, RuPaul has done an amazing job of showing the world that sexuality is a spectrum and gender is a performance. In Rupaul’s own words, “We’re all born naked an the rest is drag.”
His show RuPaul’s Drag Race has become an epic success, normalizing an array of sexual orientations and genders. He has also lifted up 12 seasons of drag queens to heroic levels of fame, with Season 12 completing its run this week.
Plus, the queens he has had on his show are amazing. We could all learn something from their fierce behavior.
Get Inspired by LGBT Historical Figures
There have been countless LGBT historical figures who have changed the world. While there are far too many to mention, I hope the ones highlighted here have provided you with your daily dose of LGBTQ inspiration.
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