20+ LGBTQ+ Icons You Should Talk To Your Children About
LGBT+ History Month has always held a special place in my heart. In comparison to other awareness days, it gives our community an opportunity to truly reflect and give thanks to our queer elders who fought for our place in society.
If it wasn’t for LGBTQ people from our past, it’s unlikely that I would have been able to marry my wife, or put her name on our son’s birth certificate. I wouldn’t have had workplace rights or rights if my wife were to fall ill. I am forever in their debt and, moving forward, it is my responsibility to fight for the rights of other Queer communities such as the Trans community, as well as younger LGBTQ+ people.
LGBT+ History is so vitally important and is valid for all communities, regardless of your identity, and it’s places like Schools Out that have made it possible for LGBT+ History to be taught in all mainstream schools. Campaigning for over 46 years, Schools Out have worked with the aim to increase the visibility of the entire LGBT+ community, as well as their history, lives and experiences. Working with schools and other educational spaces and institutions, they provide training and resources to help LGBT+ people feel safe, as well as raise awareness on issues that affect the community.
The reason that February is the chosen month for LGBT+ History Month is because it coincides with the abolition of Section 28 in 2003. Previously, the legislation stated that local authorities were prohibited from “intentionally promoting homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.
Nowadays, schools are much more welcoming to LGBT people – including staff – with some schools adopting LGBT forums, and networks for staff. There’s also an increase in more inclusive spaces such as gender neutral toilets and changing rooms. With the changes to RSE/RSHE regulations in 2019, the fight for equality is becoming more prevalent, however it’s far from over.
If you’re an ally to our community, I cannot stress the importance of teaching your children about LGBT people and our history. It not only promotes acceptance, but it creates a safe space for them and their own identity. Here are just a few of our favourite LGBTQ people who have shaped our past and present, and curating our future:
Historical sources, quotes and references via Wikipedia.com
Marsha P “Pay it no mind” Johnson was a gay liberation activist who played a huge role in paving the way for the LGBTQ+ movement in New York City. Alongside people like Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie, and other Drag artists and Trans women, they were present during the Stonewall uprising in 1969 that eventually changed the way local Police treated the LGBTQ community.
Marsha died in 1992, to which the circumstances are still unconfirmed. A campaign to investigate the reason for their death is still on-going. Sylvia died in 2002 following complications with their Liver Cancer. DeLarverie died much later in 2014, with many awarding her the title of “the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement“.
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is a Former Icelandic Prime Minister and the first openly LGBTQ+ leader of a nation. Awarded as one of the Top 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, Jóhanna was Iceland’s longest serving member of Parliament.
Zanele Muholi is a South African non-binary artist and visual activist. Their work concentrates on race, gender and sexuality with a majority of their work looking at black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex individuals.
Zanele also co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a “black lesbian organisation dedicated to providing a safe space for women to meet and organise, and Inkanyiso (“illuminate” in Zulu)”, a non-profit organisation focusing on queer visual activism.
Chella Man is an American actor, model, YouTuber, artist and LGBTQ+ activist of Chinese and Jewish heritage. He began his YouTube channel in March 2017, where he shares his experiences. From identity, love life, gender dysphoria, and deafness. In 2018 he hosted his TedX Talk “Becoming Him”, in which he discusses his journey transitioning while being disabled.
Barbara Jordan was the first African American to serve in the Texas senate and the first African American woman from a southern state to serve in congress in 1973. She was best known for her opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon, and as the first African-American as well as the first woman to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honours.
For much of her later years, due to Multiple Sclerosis, Jordan used a wheelchair. She eventually contracted pneumonia and died on 17th January 1996. She was survived by her partner Nancy Earl who was her long-term companion and occasional speechwriter.
Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and “one of the most popular playwrights throughout the 1880’s and the early 1890’s”. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency for consensual homosexual acts, imprisonment, and an early death at age 46.
Freddie Mercury was a British singer, songwriter, and lead vocalist of the rock band Queen. Freddie rebelled against the conventions of a typical front-man, with his signature theatrical style and flamboyant stage persona.
Mercury was not afraid to publicly express his gayness, but unwilling to discuss or justify his “lifestyle” as quoted in Gay Times.
In 1991, at age 45, Freddie died due to complications from AIDS, to which he was diagnosed with 5 years prior but kept private.
Bayard Rustin was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, non-violence, and gay rights. Bayard was a gay man, and due to criticism over his sexuality and early arrests, he usually acted as an influential adviser behind the scenes to civil-rights leaders. In the 1980s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay causes, speaking at events as an activist and supporter of human rights.
Rustin was also a pioneer in the movement to desegregate interstate bus travel and helped to organise the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership; teaching King about non-violence methods. He later served as an organiser for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Due to the lack of marriage equality at the time, Rustin and his partner Walter Naegle took the then not unusual step to solidify their partnership and protect their union legally through adoption: in 1982 Rustin adopted Naegle, 30 years old at the time. Naegle explained that Bayard
“… was concerned about protecting my rights, because gay people had no protection. At that time, marriage between a same-sex couple was inconceivable. And so he adopted me, legally adopted me, in 1982.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin is the first openly LGBTQ+ politician in American history elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. Tammy was also the first woman to be elected to either chamber from Wisconsin.
Baldwin has a consistent progressive voting record with regards to Gun Control, LGBT Rights, and Medicare. In 2009, Baldwin introduced the Ending LGBT Health Disparities Act (ELHDA), which sought to advance LGBT health priorities by promoting research, cultural competency, and non-discrimination policies. Sadly, the bill was not passed.
Alan Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Turing is widely considered to be “the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence”. Despite these accomplishments, he was never fully recognised in his home country during his lifetime due to the prevalence of homophobia at the time and because the majority of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.
During the Second World War, Turing played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled Allies to defeat the Nazis, and in so doing helped win the war.
Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for “homosexual acts”. He accepted chemical castration treatment, as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning.
In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon. The “Alan Turing law” is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
Justin Fashanu was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He was known by his early clubs to be gay, and came out publicly later in his career, becoming the first professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981.
As of 2012, there are no openly gay male footballers in England’s top four divisions. In 2008, ex-Premiership footballer estimated that at least a dozen Premiership footballers were gay but were afraid to “come out” for fear of a negative reaction, despite Homosexuality in England and Wales (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland) being decriminalised in 1967.
To try and combat homophobia in Football, football clubs will also come together between 4-13 December to celebrate the latest Rainbow Laces campaign and show support for all LGBT people in football and beyond.
James Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, who explored the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western society within America.
Baldwin was not only seen as an influential African-American writer, but also as an influential emigrant writer, particularly because of his experiences outside the United States and the impact of these experiences on his life and his writing.
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”James Baldwin
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artefacts of Mexico. Inspired by the country’s popular culture, she employed an art style to explore questions of identity, post-colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Kahlo was noted as bisexual for her various lovers and love for women in her life.
In the a piece called Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself), the two women symbolise feminine sexuality as well as Frida’s dual identities. The painting also contains a monkey (a common symbol in Frida’s paintings and life as she owned several spider monkeys.) Monkeys, however, are also common symbols for sin and sexual promiscuity.
Renée Richards is an American ophthalmologist and former tennis player who had some success on the professional circuit in the 1970s. Renée (French for “reborn”) became widely known following “male-to-female sex reassignment surgery”, when she fought to compete as a woman in the 1976 US Open.
The United States Tennis Association began that year requiring genetic screening for female players. She challenged that policy, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favour, a landmark case in transgender rights.
Harvey Milk was an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. Although he was the most pro-LGBT politician in the United States at the time, politics and activism were not his early interests; he was neither open about his sexuality nor civically active until he was 40.
Milk served almost eleven months in office, during which he sponsored a bill banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk became an icon in San Francisco and a martyr in the gay community, awarded “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States”.
On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a disgruntled city supervisor.
Elton John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight) is an English singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer, selling over 300 million records – making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
John, who announced he was bisexual in 1976 and has been openly gay since 1988, entered into a civil partnership with David Furnish on 21 December 2005 (they married after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014). They have two children.
In 2013, John resisted calls to boycott Russia in protest at the Russian gay propaganda law, but told fans at a Moscow concert that the laws were “inhumane and isolating”, and he was “deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation”. In response to comments made by Vladimir Putin, who stated there was no discrimination against gays in Russia, John responded by offering to introduce Putin to Russians abused under Russian legislation banning “homosexual propaganda”.
John became more closely associated with AIDS charities following the deaths of his friends Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury in 1991, raising large amounts of money and using his public profile to raise awareness of the disease. He founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 as a charity to fund programmes for HIV/AIDS prevention, for the elimination of prejudice and discrimination against HIV/AIDS-affected individuals, and to provide services to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Patricio Manuel is an American professional boxer. In 2018, he became the first transgender boxer in the history of the United States to have a professional fight. Manuel is a five-time USA female national amateur boxing champion. He fought his last fight as a woman in 2012 against Tiara Brown. His next bout was after he transitioned, where he took on Hugo Aguilar in 2018, and won by unanimous decision. Manuel went on to make his professional debut in December 2018.
Aguilar only knew of Manuel’s transition two days prior to the bout. He stated “For me it’s very respectable… It doesn’t change anything for me. In the ring he wants to win and I want to win too.”
Jason Paul Collins is an American former professional basketball player who was a center for 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA). After the 2012–13 NBA season concluded, Collins publicly came out as gay and became the first active male athlete from one of the four major North American professional team sports to publicly do so. He was also second openly gay athlete to play in any of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada following Robbie Rogers who did so in 2013 with the LA Galaxy.
Collins was named as a “game-changer” by Martina Navratilova (who came out as Lesbian in 1981) for team sports, which she referred to as one of the last areas where homophobia remained
Laverne Cox is an American actress and LGBTQ+ advocate, becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category, and the first to be nominated for an Emmy Award since composer Angela Morley in 1990. In 2015, Cox won a Daytime Emmy Award in Outstanding Special Class Special as executive producer for Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word making her the first openly transgender woman to win the award.
In June 2014, Cox became the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Cox is also the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of a Cosmopolitan magazine, with her February 2018 cover on the South African edition. She is also the first openly transgender person to have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds.
Sally Ride was an American astronaut and physicist, joining NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. They were also the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space, having done so at the age of 32.
Ride was extremely private about her personal life, however after Ride’s death, her obituary revealed that her partner of 27 years was Tam O’Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University and childhood friend, who met her when both were aspiring tennis players. This means that Ride was the first known lesbian astronaut.
Michael Sam is an American former professional football player and became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with Montreal before the 2015 season, and then subsequently became the first publicly gay player to play in the CFL. By 2014, no active NFL player had ever come out publicly.
In April 2016 Sam spoke with LGBTQ advocacy groups at the Missouri State Capitol against a bill that would enable discrimination against LGBTQ people and personally lobbied state legislators
Andrew Moffat is a British teacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, and the author of several books and educational resources. They are most famous for their No Outsiders programme, an approach to teaching primary school-aged children about diversity and tolerance, for which he was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. Following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, and in response to his school children’s questions, Moffat also put together online resources for teachers covering terrorism and hate crime, particularly concerning refugees.
His No Outsiders programme has attracted protests on religious grounds, and was briefly halted in 2019, before being reinstated. Moffat was awarded an MBE in 2017 for services to equality in education.
This LGBTQ+ Icons list was a hard list to curate, but one I am incredibly proud of. I am so proud of how far our community has come. I am also acutely aware of how far we still have to go and how much work there is still to do.
Who would you add to this LGBTQ+ Icons list, and why? Have you got any incredible queer moments in history that you’d like to share? If you’d like to read more about LGBT Icons and Heroes, our friends over at Our Transitional Life have made their own post about the subject as well – go check it out!
Historical sources, quotes and references via Wikipedia.com
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
graphics.reuters.com (Marsha P Johnson)
sites.duke.edu (Chella Man)
E! Online (Freddie Mercury)
nytimes (Alan Turning)
Vintag.es (Elton John)
Time.com (Laverne Cox)
Birmingham Mail (Andrew Moffat)
Photo by Sara Rampazzo on Unsplash