Awesome LGBTQ+ Historical Figures

A person holding a sign that reads, "Homosexuals should be judged as individuals."

It’s June, and that means it’s officially the 50th Anniversary of Pride Month! In the past, we’ve celebrated the month by writing about the power of an inclusive culture and explaining why we support Pride. This time around, we wanted to highlight key individuals in history you were not taught about in school.

There are a ton of awesome LGBTQ+ people in history who set the foundation for where we are today. We’re going to give you a sneak peek at some of them and the amazing lives they’ve lived.

Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

No Pride history blog would be complete without mentioning the founders of the movement itself. Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were trans women of color who dedicated their lives to activism.

Both of them were present at the police raid that sparked the Stonewall Riots in 1969. From that point on, they worked tirelessly to secure rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. Oh, and if you haven’t heard of the Stonewall Riots before, go look into them. They’re the reason we celebrate Pride in the first place.

Want to know something else? Even though it never came to be (Martha P. Johnson was found dead and likely murdered in 1992, and Sylvia died from cancer in 2002), Sylvia and Martha promised each other that they’d “cross the river Jordan together.”

Marsha P. Johnson (left) and Sylvia Rivera, courtesy of Netflix, saved from: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-LGBT-STONEWALL/010092NF3GR/index.html

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Barbara Gittings

If you’ve never heard of Barbara Gittings, you’re in for a treat (and we can say that for sure, because the LGBTQ+ person writing this blog had somehow never heard of her before either).

Barbara is widely regarded as the person who started the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. In fact, she helped found the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, which was the first lesbian civil rights organization in the U.S. Pretty cool, right?

Her work didn’t stop there, though. Barbara helped bring to light the fact that the U.S. government banned hiring LGBTQ+ people in the 1960s. She also helped promote LGBTQ+ literature and ensure that libraries had access to it throughout the country. If that wasn’t enough, she was also part of the movement that eventually convinced the America Psychiatric Association to stop counting homosexuality as a mental illness. That is some serious #girlpower.

Barbara Gittings, photo taken by Kay Tobin Lahusen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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José Julio Sarria

José Julio Sarria was a World War II veteran who went on to become a well-known LGBTQ+ rights activist and the first openly gay candidate for public office in the U.S. Although he was too short to join the military, José seduced an officer after Pearl Harbor with the condition that he’d be able to join the military. The plan worked, and José served in the Intelligence School.

It didn’t take long, though, for him to be discharged from the military because he was gay. He was, in fact, even given a morals charge, which meant he could never become a teacher like he wanted to. Instead José became a drag queen and eventually ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. He didn’t win, but he did get 6,000 votes, which showed voters the LGBTQ+ community could make a difference.

Eventually, José went on to create the Imperial Court System, which is the second largest LGBTQ+ organization in the world.

Photo of Jose Sarria pre transition and post transition.

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José Sarria and Supporters at His Campaign Headquarters

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There are so many awesome LGBTQ+ people in history that we couldn’t just confine them all to one blog. Keep your eyes out for part two, coming soon, to learn more about the history that makes up Pride month and the LGBTQ+ community.

If you are interested in fostering an inclusive and LGBTQ+ supportive culture, get ahold of us and we’ll share what we’ve done. We are by no means experts, but we are committed to learning and doing better every day.

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