Jess Bassil, Year 12
Year 12 student Jess Bassil has shared her list of ten influencial figures from LGBT+ history, to coincide with Pride Month...
Pride Month takes place every year in June and is an occasion to celebrate the LGBT+ community, to reflect on the strides that have been made in the fight for equal rights and to recognise the difficulties that many queer people still face around the world. Normally Pride parades and festivals would be happening across the country, but sadly, due to Coronavirus, this is no longer possible. However, there’s still plenty you can do to celebrate Pride Month. There are lots of virtual Pride events taking place over the next few weeks you could attend, or you could check out some queer artists and YouTubers or watch some LGBT+ films.
Another way to get involved is by brushing up on your queer history. The LGBT+ community has a far longer history than people often think, and remembering some of the individuals who have been involved in the struggle for LGBT+ rights can be a great way to mark Pride Month.
So, in honour of the season, here’s my list of 10 influential figures from LGBT+ history
1. Sappho (630 BC)
Sappho was one of the most respected writers of her day, but we don’t know a lot about her. We know that she was a Greek poet, probably had black hair and might have been quite short, but there are few records of her life, and only a handful of her poems survive today. One of these is the Ode to Aphrodite, in which Sappho writes about her deep love for another woman. As a result, the term “lesbian” takes its name from Sappho’s home island: Lesbos.
2. Christina, Queen of Sweden (1626-1689)
Ah, yes, everyone’s favourite 17th Century queer Scandinavian monarch. Wait, you didn’t have a list? Christina was known for her brilliant intellect and her love of ‘masculine’ past times like fencing, riding and bear-hunting. Christina sent love letters to male and female suitors and is thought to have had a relationship with a lady-in-waiting. There’s also been speculation about Christina’s gender identity, based on her masculine presentation and the way she wrote about femininity in her autobiography.
3. Albert Cashier (1843-1915)
In the American Civil War, around 400 women are thought to have disguised themselves as men so that they could fight. Originally, historians assumed that Albert Cashier – who was born female but fought in the war as a man – fell into this category. However, today it’s thought that Cashier was actually a transgender man, as he presented as male long before and also after the war. Towards the end of his life he was forced to dress in female clothing, but he was still buried under the name Albert and given a full military funeral.
4. Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Josephine Baker might just have the coolest CV to date: she was a dancer, a jazz singer, a French Resistance agent and a civil rights campaigner who was offered the position of leader of the civil rights movement after Martin Luther King’s death. Baker identified as bisexual and had relationships with the crime author Georges Simenon and fellow Blues singer Clara Smith.
5. Alan Turing (1912-1954)
Turing was a computer scientist, philosopher, mathematician, theoretical biologist… Basically he was distressingly smart. In WWII he developed a machine to crack the German Enigma code, supplying the allies with vital information about German battleplans. Despite his role in ending the war, Turing was persecuted for his homosexuality and charged with gross indecency, committing suicide two years later. In 2013, he received a posthumous pardon, and today he’s recognised as a hero of WWII.
6. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin was a civil rights campaigner who worked alongside Martin Luther King, advising him on using non-violent methods and helping him plan the campaign. He was arrested multiple times for acts of civil disobedience and for living as an openly gay man. He also campaigned against the treatment of Jews in Russia, and in the 80s he began to campaign for gay rights.
7. Marsha P Johnson (1945-1992):
After resisting arrest in the Stonewall Riots (protests at a gay bar in 1969 that began the modern gay liberation movement) Marsha P Johnson (she claimed the ‘P’ stood for “Pay it no mind”) became a key figure in the movement for gay and transgender rights. Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Movement and began the organisation STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries), which ran a shelter for homeless, queer youths. Years after her tragic death, Johnson remains a symbol of the Gay Liberation Movement, and in 2021 a statue of her will be unveiled in NYC.
8. Edie Windsor (1929-2017) and Thea Spyer (?-2009):
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer had been a couple in private for decades before they got married in Canada, where, unlike in the US, gay marriage was legal. However, when Thea died in 2009, the US government refused to recognise Edie’s inheritance from her wife, because it hadn’t come from a heterosexual marriage. In response, Edie began campaigning for gay marriage to be accepted. As a result, in 2013, the DOMA law, which only recognised heterosexual marriage , was declared unconstitutional, paving the way for the legalisation of gay marriage in the US.
9. Harvey Milk (1930-1978):
In 1978, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California, and one of the first in the whole of the US. Sadly, after just a year in office, he was assassinated by a former political opponent. However, he made big changes during that year. He helped pass a law to prevent discrimination in employment or housing based on sexuality and fought against the Briggs Initiative, which aimed to prevent gay teachers from working.
10. Troy Perry (1940- now):
Perry was brought up in a conservative Pentecostal church, ashamed of his homosexuality. However, after many years of struggling with his identity and after being denounced by his church, he decided to set up the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination that aims to support LGBT+ Christians. The Church now has more than 200 congregations and Perry is living happily in LA with his husband.
It’s important to remember the history of the LGBT+ community, but we also need to be aware of what’s happening in the world today.
A lot people are going through a very difficult time in lockdown, living in environments that are unaccepting, and feeling cut off from any kind of support. If you want to find out more, or if you are having a rough time in lockdown, then here are some links that may be useful:
Telephone: 0800 1111
LGBT Foundation: https://lgbt.foundation/coronavirus/wellbeing
Stay safe and have a great Pride Month.
Jess Bassil, Year 12