Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate as a community, loudly and proudly support the movement, and display solidarity. However, it is also a time to honor activists who dedicate their lives to changing the world. It is their fiery passion that empowers us to fight for future generations and pave the way to a more inclusive, accepting world.
While the world has slowly grown more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, this progress didn’t come easy. These gay rights activists have faced hardships and struggles, forcing the world to open their minds and hearts. They are catalysts of progress in a world that has refused to change. As we look at the barriers that still lay ahead, we can draw hope from inspirational leaders of the past and present.
Here’s a list of queer activists who aren’t in your history textbooks, but should be.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. She was an activist, self-identified drag queen, performer, and survivor. She was at the center of New York’s gay liberation movement, but she was also outspoken about the police and advocated on behalf of prisoners, sex workers, and people with HIV/AIDS.
Harvey Milk made history as one of the first openly gay officials in the United States. In 1977, he was elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. He was a civil and human rights leader, and he was tragically shot and killed a year after being elected.
Danica Roem has made history as the first out trans person to be reelected to a state legislature. Before running for office she was a reporter and thrash metal musician. Throughout her campaign, she faced major hurdles as anti-LGBT groups targeted her and funded her opponent’s campaign.
Andrea Jenkins is known for being the first black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States. She was elected in 2018 and is currently serving on the Minneapolis City Council.
Audre Lorde was an American writer and civil rights activist. She dedicated her life as well as her creative talent to confront injustices such as sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia. She was a champion of the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
Bayard Rustin was an instrumental leader in the Civil Rights movement, as well as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. However, as an openly gay man, he was not given recognition for his work and was often forced to work in the shadows. Rustin still remained a leading political and activist, bringing the AIDs crisis to the NAACP’s attention.
Sylvia Rivera was a Latina American transgender rights activist. She self-identified as a drag queen and participated in demonstrations with the Gay Liberation Front. Rivera started STAR with Marsha P. Johnson, a protest group that connected many gay groups.
Alphonso David is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Mobilize partner. At Human Rights Campaign, David fights against LGBTQ+ discrimination in hopes of realizing a country that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. He is the first person of color to serve as president of the organization. Prior to being appointed president, David was known as a nationally recognized LGBTQ+ civil rights lawyer and advocate.
Laverne Cox is an LGBTQ+ advocate and an American actress. She is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. Outside of her acting career, Laverne Cox has uplifted other members of the trans community on social media, pushed IMDB to change their birth name policy, and advocated for other trans actors to be nominated for Emmy’s. She inspires society to move beyond gender expectations and opt to live more authentically.
James Baldwin was an accomplished playwright and writer. He is known for breaking new literary ground by exploring racial and social issues in his work. James Baldwin initially got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a reporter, but later joined the Congress of Racial Equality and spoke about racial inequality around the country. He is most famous for his essays on the Black experience in the United States.
Barbara Jordan was a political trailblazer. As the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate, the first woman elected to Congress from Texas, and the first African-American elected to Congress from Texas, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as awards from the NAACP. Although she did not explicitly speak publicly about her sexual orientation, Jordan was open about her life partner, Nancy Earl.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major is a survivor of Attica State Prison, a former sex worker, and a human rights activist. Miss Major participated in the Stonewall Riots and later went on to work as the Executive Director of the Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). Her fierce advocacy for Trans women of color earned her countless awards and accolades as well as a documentary feature film, “MAJOR!”
José Sarria was a political activist, drag queen, and the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States. Sarria was a leader in the LGBTQ+ community in San Francisco, known for founding groups dedicated to gay businesses, advocacy organizations, and other charities. He did all this while performing in drag at the Black Cat and winning a San Francisco drag ball.
Larry Kramer was a great provocateur, and one of the first activists against AIDS. Kramer published radical pieces of film, literature, and other essays that spoke about the injustices of the United States and highlighted inequalities. He later went on to co-found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP, two of the leading organizations that responded to the AIDS epidemic.