March is the month we get to celebrate women and be grateful for the amazing value they add to our lives. It is the time of the year when we take time to remember the notable contributions that women have made in history. The LGBTQ community has also had its share of strong, courageous women who have in their own way contributed to the community in a major way. These women in both past and recent times have helped in breaking the barriers, broadening acceptance of the LGBTQ community and advance equality.
Barbara Gittings (1932–2007)
Gittings was a famous American activist for LGBTQ equality. She organized the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis which was the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. In the 70s, she heavily involved herself in the American Library Association in order to promote positive literature about homosexuality in libraries. In 1972, she participated in the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness. Gittings participated in many of the earliest LGBTQ actions in the United States. In 1965, Gittings marched in the first gay picket lines at the White House,the US State Department, and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to protest the federal government’s policy on discrimination of homosexuals. All her life, she focused on fighting for the rights of LGBTQ community and changing the perception of what being queer meant. She was a brave woman who spoke up back in the day when the subject of homosexuality was still shrouded in complete silence.
When Ellen decided to publicly come out in 1997, she took the conversation on being queer to a new level. At the time, this was a big cultural shock and publicly coming out of the closet was expected to ruin her career. However, a totally unexpected thing happened — her career took off and she has since been using her platform to advocate for gay rights.
According to a Variety poll in 2005, Ellen did more to influence Americans’ attitudes about gay rights than any other celebrity or public figure. Ellen has been very vocal on the challenges the LGBTQ community has been facing. In her show, she has tried as much as possible to include the message of love and acceptance. She condemned the violent attacks and bullying of queer people. She has always donated to LGBTQ foundations and victims of violent attacks. She has effortlessly schooled clueless politicians on the importance of gay rights, equality and same-sex marriage. She has inspired so many people, especially the youth to accept themselves and live their authentic life because there is nothing wrong with being different. Ellen is so much more than just a comedic star. She has become a seminal figure in shaping America’s attitudes towards LGBTQ people, and showing LGBTQ people in a positive light.
Audre Lorde (1934–1992)
She was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. She masterfully used her poetry to express her frustrations on different social-injustice issues and bring to light the many challenges the LBGTQ and black community faced. She spoke on how sexual identity and race intersect and her highly acclaimed volume The Black Unicorn, received a lot of attention as it dealt with lesbian relationships and themes of love in accessible and visceral ways. She participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 and used her theory of difference to establish the fight for gay rights as part of the greater fight against all oppressive forces that affect those who embody difference. She was a creative force to be reckoned with and was undaunted when it came to expressing herself.
Wanda Sykes is mostly recognized as an actor and comedian but she is also one of the amazing LGBTQ activist who are not afraid to speak up and be heard. Sykes was among the first to publicly express her disappointment in California voters after they passed state Proposition 8. She vowed, “With the legislation that they passed, I can’t sit by and just watch. I just can’t do it.” She has since continued to participate in same-sex marriage issues hosting events and emceeing fundraisers. Sykes is putting her platform to good use by aiding LGBTQ groups like The Trevor Project, GLAAD, The True Colors Fund and even Detroit’s own Ruth Ellis Center, which works to prevent homelessness among the city’s LGBTQ youth. It is no wonder that in 2019 , she received the Ruth Ellis Center’s Legacy Award which is a beacon of hope for many in the LGBTQ community.
Christine Jorgensen (1926–1989)
Christine was an American transgender woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. A fun fact about her is that she was in the army during World War II. She travelled to Germany to obtain her surgery. Upon returning to America, the New York Daily News ran a front-page story on her surgery. She instantly became famous. The importance of Jorgensen choosing this path was one of the first stages of transgender identity being legally recognized and explored as a subject for both Jorgensen and the American public. Jorgensen’s highly publicized transition helped bring to light gender identity and shaped a new culture of more inclusive ideas and accepting notions about the subject. She was able to redefine gender and sexual identity.
Cox is one of the most out-spoken LGBTQ activists who has not shied away from talking about the prejudice that queer black people face on a daily basis. Her boldness has enabled the LGBTQ community to be more embracing of black queer people. She rocked the headlines all across the globe for being the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time in a story titled, “The Transgender Tipping Point.” The Time cover story opened up the transgender perspective for millions of Americans who didn’t know much about the community’s struggles. Her activism isn’t just relegated to magazine covers and awards shows. Cox is always uplifting trans folks from all walks of life on social media. Cox has been noted by her LGBTQ peers, and many others, for being a trailblazer for the transgender community. She has won several awards for her activist approach in spreading awareness. Her impact and prominence in the media has led to a growing conversation about transgender culture, specifically transgender women, and how being transgender intersects with one’s race.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.