These 11 people have made history for the LGBTQ+ Movement. The path in the right direction always starts with a first step, usually taken by courageous people who disagree with the given circumstances. The fight of the LGBTQ+ community for equality, respect, and acceptance at the numerous LGBT Pride parades and demonstrations began with a riot against police violence during a raid in New York. Today, we are standing on the shoulders of these LGBTQ+ Activists.
Text by Sarah Tekath
Translated by Karl Krause
Well-known LGBTQ+ Activists
However, there have been many lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer people already before and after the Stonewall Uprising who have taken brave steps leading the way to the Pride and LGBTQ+ rights movement that it is today. That’s why in this article on Couple of Men, we’ll introduce you to LGBTQ+ activists who have made significant contributions to the progress of the LGBTQ+ history pioneering for a change like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Bayard Rustin, and Ellen DeGeneres. All in their special and personal way.
#1 Marsha P. Johnson
Born in New Jersey in 1945, Marsha P. Johnson was a famous drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist involved in the LGBTQ+ rights movement shortly after the Stonewall riots in 1969, which are generally seen as the kickoff for today’s Gay Pride parades. The following year she co-founded the activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which supports homeless transgender people and drag queens. In her last years, Johnson campaigned to raise awareness of AIDS. In 1992, she was found dead in the Hudson River. The police categorized the case as a suicide, although relatives expressed doubts. Ten years later, the status was changed to ‘unexplained’.
#2 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Already in the 19th century, there were people who stood up for equal rights, tolerance, and LGBTQ+ rights and one of the most famous of these activists is certainly the German Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. He is considered a pioneer of sexology and a champion of gender equality. The scientist researched and published on the subject of same-sex love and called for the possibility of two men getting married as well. On the occasion of the German Lawyer’s Day in 1867, he spoke publicly for the impunity of homosexual acts. He also confessed his time openly to his sexual identity and is therefore locally referred to as the ‘first gay in world history‘.
#3 Barbara Gittings
Vigils hold in 1965 in front of the White House, the United States Department of State, and the Independence Hall in Philadelphia also involved journalist Barbara Gittings, today considered to be the mother of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. She was also involved in a subgroup of the American Library Association and initiated the first of its kind kissing event with the motto ‘Hug a Homosexual’ in Dallas. In the years 1970 and 1971, she appeared along with six other women in American television shows. This made them the first women to show themselves as lesbians in public.
#4 Nikolay Alexeyev
While tolerance for the LGBT community is already well advanced in many countries, there are still countries where criminal prosecution and physical threats prevail. Russia is one of them, and that’s where activist Nikolay Alexeyev campaigns for the freedom of assembly of gays and lesbians during Moscow Pride. The LGBTQ+ event has been banned since 2006 regularly by the Lord Mayor of the city. In 2005, Alexeyev founded the Gayrussia.ru project, which has become the main source of information on the situation of LGBTQ in Russia and the driving force for equal rights for LGBT people in Russia.
#5 Harvey Milk
Harvey Bernard Milk was the first openly gay US politician. Although initially barely interested in politics, he saw in his candidacy the best way to advance the LGBTQ+ rights movement. One of Harvey Milk’s main slogans and campaign mottos was ‘gays choose gay’ as a result of responding to some homosexual retailers being denied a license to open a store. In this context, he also initiated the neighborhood street event, the Castro Street Fair, which is still celebrated in San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, Castro, today. In 1978, Milk was shot dead by former city councilman Dan White. After the verdict – just seven years in prison for manslaughter – there were serious clashes between gays and the police, also known as the White Night Riots. Every year since 2010, the 22nd of May, Harvey Milk Day, is a day of special significance for public schools in California officially signed into law by then-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
#6 Magnus Hirschfeld
Born in 1868, German physician Magnus Hirschfeld is one of the founders of the first LGBTQ+ rights movement. Together with the publisher Max Spohr, the lawyer Eduard Oberg and the writer Franz Joseph von Bülow, he founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (WhK), which was the world’s first organization to decriminalize sexual acts between men. Hirschfeld also published the journal ‘Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen’ for several years. He also followed in his research the theses of the ‘third gender’ and ‘sexual intermediates’.
#7 Audre Lorde
Author and poet Audre Lorde called herself a ‘black lesbian feminist mother poet warrior’. While studying at Hunter College from 1954 to 1959, she became acquainted with the culture of gay bars in Greenwich Village, New York, and incorporated it into her book ‘Zami’. In the 1960s, Lorde married and got two children. The marriage was divorced, and the author lived with women for the rest of her life. In her poem ‘Martha’, she is openly committed to her homosexuality with the words, “We shall love each other here if ever at all.” In addition to her commitment to the LGBT community, she is also considered an essential figure in feminism.
#8 Ellen DeGeneres
The talk show presenter Ellen DeGeneres is probably one of the best-known (lesbian) Americans ever. She was twice voted number one on the 50 Most Powerful Gay People in America by Out magazine. Ellen had her public coming out in her sitcom as her serial character, and at the same time as a private person. In the book Love, Ellen, her mother describes her reaction to her daughter’s outing. DeGeneres is involved with the organization PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and is the spokeswoman for the HRC Coming Out Project. She is in a relationship with actress Portia de Rossi and announced the engagement one day after the same-sex marriage ban in California (USA) was lifted. The LGBTQ+ activist continually tries to draw attention to human rights issues like capital punishment in Brunei with boycott calls.
#9 Alan Turing
Almost forgotten, Alan Turing undoubtedly is an important persona in LGBTQ+ history. He was named the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as a war hero. The mathematician who, among other things, helped the British Secret Service to decipher the “Enigma” code of the German Wehrmacht, helped to win the Second World War and saved many lives. But in 1952, the police found out about his relationship with a man. To avoid being imprisoned, Turing accepted the “offer” to inhibit his sexual preference with medication. Just two years later, he was found dead. The official cause of death was suicide. Only in 2013, Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II.
#10 Christine Jorgensen
After a gender reassignment surgery in 1952, US-based Christine Jorgensen became the first transgender person to gain much media attention, which she used to raise awareness of transgender issues. Because of Jorgensen’s time in the military, newspapers stated headlines such as “GI becomes a woman” or “Ex-GI becomes blonde beauty”. In 1959, she applied for a marriage permit, which was denied because her birth certificate identified her as male-only. In 2012, American social scientist, filmmaker, and transgender activist Susan Stryker produced a 90-minute film collage titled ‘Christine in the Cutting Room’.
#11 RuPaul Andre Charles
“We are all born naked, and the rest is drag”. Another important LGBTQ+ activist of the present is a legend in the making, not only by his popular Drag TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Through his work, RuPaul’s advocacy for diversity makes the range of sexual orientations clear: Sexuality is a spectrum, gender is an achievement, and racism is a choice. Any expression of sexuality and gender identity has its right to exist, on stage, in public, or anywhere in our lives. Many of the Drag Queens in his show are also making an incredible impact as activists and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and, at the same time, bringing up the topic of discrimination against LGBTQ+ within the community. Their message is clear: We are stronger together, equal, and free to be who we are.
Let’s sissy that walk @RuPaul! What a dance night with the #rupaul DJ set on @OpenSeaCruises in Ibiza! You really made our night with that walk! Can we get an Amen in here?#gaytravel #coupleofmen #dragrace #openseacruises 👬🌈💃❤️ pic.twitter.com/dM4Jpyx0Av— Couple of Men (@coupleofmen) October 4, 2018
LGBTQ+ Activism in the past until now
Sure, our list of influential activists of the LGBTQ+ rights movement could have been much longer, and we will add more activists in the future. Every day people around the world champion love, tolerance, and equality – either loud on the frontline or quietly in the background – and they’re all of the same importance when it comes to visibility, transporting the messages of the streets, and never being silent about injustice, discrimination and most importantly racism. Never forget where we are coming from. Silence is compliance, every day again.
- The History of the LGBTQ+ Community: 50 years of the Stonewall riots
- Proud and Out loud! Our Gay Pride Trips around the world
- Top List & Overview: All 60+ CSD Parades & Gay Pride Festivals
Around the world as LGBTQ+ activists
We are often referred to as LGBTQ+ activists, even though we only show and express our affection for each other while traveling. Being openly gay means freedom and the opportunity to be who we are: two people who love each other. Why should one have to hide from it? Why should we be treated differently from the rest of humanity?
And yet, we, as gay men compared to other underrepresented groups in the LGBTQ+ community, are clearly in the majority, official figures say. No matter where we are in the world, with our blog Couple of Men, we want to show that we are all human and that all varieties of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identification are “normal” and healthy, and diverse as long as it is not hurting anyone else. All people should support this motto because it’s not about taking away from the majority but equipping marginalized groups with the same human rights.
Karl & Daan.