June is arguably one of the best months of the year. It is full of sunshine, great fashion, summer planning at its prime, and it is PRIDE MONTH! A month of celebrating love and individuality in all forms.
In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker, designed the rainbow flag as a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community and assigned meaning to each of it's original eight colors:
*turquoise and pink were pulled by Gilbert after the rainbow flag debut to make it easier to mass produce.
2019 marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York City and you can’t help but notice all of the rainbow themed products as you walk throughout stores. This outward support for the LGBTQ+ community has grown substantially over the years, but we all know it has taken decades of hard work and heartbreak to reach today’s more inclusive environment AND there is always more work to be done to reach equality in the US and throughout the world.
See below for 12 women from history and today that have contributed to advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
More representation is where it starts and Danica Roem is doing just that. She made waves in 2017 when she was elected as the first openly transgender state legislator, defeating a notoriously anti-LGBTQ incumbent in Virginia. “This election has to prove nationwide that discrimination is a disqualifier.” - Danica Roem
Nicknamed the “mother of Pride,” Brenda Howard was a bisexual activist who is widely credited as having created the first Pride parade. She helped coordinate the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in June 1970 in honor of the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which has gradually evolved to our current day Pride parade. She also came up with the idea of organizing workshops, talks and other events around the march, giving birth to the concept of not only a Pride march but also a Pride festival.
Anne Lister, who is now the inspiration behind the BBC/HBO series, Gentleman Jack, was a businesswoman from the early 1800s, but also a passionate lover that recorded all of her lesbian affairs in great detail in her journals. Due to homosexual relationships being illegal, Anne created a coded language so no one would be able to decipher her written pieces. In 34 years, she had written five million words in 26 volumes, with a further 14 travel diaries on top of that. About a sixth of this was written in code.
Fast forward to 1988, after years of studying Anne’s journals, Helena Whitbread, a 52-year-old teacher, decoded and published the journals.
“Of all the things I thought she was hiding, it wasn’t sex with other women,” says Helena. “I think the feeling was... ‘Oh my God - here is an absolutely truthful - I’m sure it was truthful - account of lesbian sex’.”
Ellen DeGeneres can put a smile on anyone’s face. It is her quick wit and kind humor that has droves of people tuning in every weekday to watch her dance the aisles and chat it up with her guests. But this isn’t her first rodeo; Ellen is a seasoned Emmy-winning comedian that is also a writer, producer, actor, author and Oscar host - not to mention, an interior designer on the side, remodeling more than a dozen homes in her (ahem) spare time.
But nothing holds a candle to what Ellen has accomplished for the LGBTQ+ community. In 1997, as 42 million viewers tuned in, and Oprah by her side playing her therapist, Ellen spoke the words “I’m gay” and created a stir amongst the industry. At the time, homosexual characters were rarely on TV and lesbian characters were practically non-existent. Her act of honesty was praised by many, but not everyone was supportive. The Ellen show was cancelled and Ellen herself received terrifying hatemail. But it was this pioneering moment that started the normalization of homosexuality on TV and what many gay people accredit as “opening the door” for them to publicly claim their sexuality.
Sylvia Rivera was a Latina transgender activist in NYC. She was involved in the city’s drag scene, and was present at the Stonewall riots. Together with her close friend, Marsha P. Johnson, another transgender activist, they cofounded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an advocacy organization for homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
Active today, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to continue the legacy of Sylvia Rivera and guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for our communities.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. “Pay it no mind” Johnson is sometimes referred to as the “Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement” or the “mother of drag.” A black transgender woman and drag queen, Marsha fearlessly advocated for her rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community at a time when doing so put her safety in jeopardy.
Johnson was a key figure of the 1960s gay rights movement in the US and believed to have thrown the brick that ignited the infamous Stonewall riots. Along with close friend Sylvia Rivera, Johnson co-founded STAR, an organization that provided shelter to homeless queer youth.
In 1992, Johnson was found dead at the age of 46. Her cause of death continues to be disputed. A 2017 Netflix documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, celebrates Johnson’s life and investigates the mysterious circumstances of her death. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is working to continue advocating for the safety of black trans people.
In the works: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson will be commemorated with a monument in New York's Greenwich Village, near the epicenter of the historic Stonewall riots.
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon met in the 1950s, became a couple and founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian organization in the United States. Together, they ran the lesbian magazine The Ladder and were active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other organizations fighting discriminatory laws against homosexuals. They were the first lesbian couple to get married in San Francisco, when the mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city to provide same-sex marriage licenses. However, it was short lived as the more than 4,000 marriage licenses were invalidated just months later. Del and Phyllis were married again when same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California in June 2008. They had already been a couple for over half a century and Del Martin passed just two months later.
Did anyone NOT see the Master of None episode that was written by Lena Waithe and centered around her character, Denise, coming out to her family on Thanksgiving?? It was modeled after Lena’s own coming out experience and left a lasting impression on viewers and the industry, with an Emmy following shortly thereafter.
In 2017, Lena made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy in comedy writing and she used that platform to specifically speak to the LGBTQ+ community, “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”
Lena quoted from Vanity Fair (April 2018), “I don’t need an Emmy to tell me to go to work. I’ve been working. I’ve been writing, I’ve been developing, I’ve been putting pieces together and I’m bullets, you know what I’m saying?”
Laverne Cox is a black, trans woman, the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy, and an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Best known for playing Sophia Burset on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, Cox has been championing for access to health care for LGBTQ+ communities and specifically for trans and people of color.
In a moving blog post on her own tumblr, just a day after the infamous Vanity Fair cover of Caitlyn Jenner dropped, Cox eloquently argues that “we must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class. I have hoped over the past few years that the incredible love I have received from the public can translate to the lives of all trans folks.”
In the same post, Cox mentions that she started #TransIsBeautiful because, whether you’re trans or not, we need to be celebrating all the things that make us uniquely ourselves.
After a 40-year engagement, in 2007, Edith Windsor married Thea Spyer in Canada. Spyer passed away just two years later, leaving everything to her wife, Edith. However, because the US did not recognize their same-sex marriage, Windsor was asked to pay taxes on Spyer’s estate far beyond what a heterosexual spouse would be required to pay.
In 2010, Windsor sued the government for a $363,053 refund of the estate taxes she had to pay when her spouse died. Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the couple’s legal marriage in Canada didn’t qualify them for any federal protections. When the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in Windsor’s favor on June 26, 2013, it declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional. The decision marked the first time the U.S. recognized marriage between partners of the same sex. It was a big win.
Two years later, the court expanded on that ruling in another case that led to the federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. With countless grand slam titles to her name and the winner of the infamous battle of the sexes match, which was later depicted in a movie of the same name, Billie has been an advocate for the sport of tennis and most specifically the advancement and equal treatment of women in the sport. But really, her work has moved beyond sports and as a gay woman herself, who says she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin until she was 51 years old, is passionate about fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
When President Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised “all the off-the-court stuff – what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation – including my two daughters – a chance to compete both on the court and in life.”