21 LGBT Figures Prominent in the Fight for Equality

Megan Halbert, Photographer

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October is a month filled with awareness, from Breast Cancer to Hispanic heritage. But something that’s not usually talked about is the LGBT+ people who paved the way for the community. With National Coming Out Day landing on October 11th, October was deemed LGBT+ History Month.

Gilbert Baker

Gilbert Baker is a gay LGBT+ rights activist. He’s known for coming up with the iconic rainbow flag in 1978. He dictated meanings to each color; The red signifies life, the orange healing, yellow sunlight, green is nature, blue is harmony, and the purple is spirit.

Credit: Diversity in STEAM magazine

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres is a lesbian talk show host. Despite facing hardships during her young life, including being kicked out of her home and having her show canceled when she came out to the public. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Credit: The New York Times

Barbara Gittings

Barabara Gittings is a lesbian woman who was a large part of the movement to get the American Psychology Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness. She’s also picketed the ban on employment of gay people by the U.S. government. Due to her activism, she has a GLAAD award named after her.

Credit: Kay Tobin Lahusen

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official. He was the Mayor of Castro Street in San Francisco. He was also awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. In 1978, he was assassinated by another city supervisor named Dan White.

Credit: Bettmann, getty images

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a gay advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. He felt that if he didn’t claim his sexuality, he would be adding to the problem. This, however, hurt his career. Many in King’s congregation didn’t want Rustin on his staff because of his sexuality. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013.

Credit: Patrick A. Burns/ New York Times Company/ getty images

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen was the first person in the United States to become widely known for having sex reassignment surgery. She received the surgery in Denmark, and was the front cover of The New York Daily News when she returned to America. She used this fame to her advantage and became a popular actress, as well as using her platform to advocate for transgender people.

Credit: Ron Moody

Richard Isay

Richard Isay was the program chairman of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APSAA). He was the first psychologist to argue homosexuality being an inborn identity and was a large contributor in pushing the American Psychology Association (APA) to take homosexuality out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Credit: Ozier Muhammad/ The New York Times

Geena Rocero

Geena Rocero is a transgender Filipina model. She has spoken at the United Nations to advocate for transgender rights, as well as achieved being the first openly transgender Asian-Pacific Islander to pose for Playboy.

Credit: geenarocero on Instagram

Alfred Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey was a bisexual American biologist. He invented The Kinsey Scale, or the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale. He was one of the first to represent sexuality as fluid instead of a fixed state. In June 2019, he was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument.

Credit: Keystone Features/ Getty Images

Queer eye

Queer Eye is a Netflix reality tv show that follows five LGBT+ men who go around states and help men and women who have been nominated by friends or family. The current version is a reboot of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that ran from 2003 to 2007. Today’s “Fab Five” (from left to right) consists of Bobby Burk, the gay home designer, Antoni Porowski, the bisexual chef, Karamo Brown, the gay culture expert, Tan France, the gay fashion helper, and Jonathan Van Ness, the gay nonbinary hairstylist. The show has worked hard at defeating the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding gay men and the LGBT+ community in general.

Credit: Al Seib/ Los Angeles Times

Aaron Fricke

Aaron Fricke was a gay high school student who wanted to bring his boyfriend to prom with him. When the school informed him that same-sex couples were not allowed at the dances, he sued the school. He won the case of Fricke v. Lynch and set the precedent to establish a legal right for students to bring their same-sex partners to school functions.

Credit: Buzzfeed

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were a lesbian couple who founded the Daughter of Bilitis (DOB) in 1955, which became the first social and political organizaiton for lesbians in the United States. The two also worked to form the Council of Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) to persuade ministers to accept homosexuals into churches. They were married in 2004, making them the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco, however that marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court, so they remarried in 2008.

Credit: A.F. Archive/ Alamy

Leonard Matlovich

Leonard Matlovich was a gay soldier who was discharged from the military because of his sexuality. His tombstone reads, “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” This quote is used quite often in the LGBT community.

Credit: Time Magazine

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor was the lead plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court of the United States case United States v. Windsor, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman and allowed the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under other state laws. Windsor’s wife died in 2009 and left her entire estate to Edith. She was not allowed to claim the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, so she sued the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Credit: Max Vadukul

Janice Langbehn

Janice Langbehn became an activist after the results of the events surrounding the death of her wife, Lisa Pond. When Pond collapsed and was taken to the hospital, Langbehn and their children weren’t allowed to see her because they were in an “anti-gay city and state. Langbehn and their three young kids were kept from Pond’s side for eight hours, leaving her to die without her partner of 18 years by her side.

Credit: Mswompa

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army’s Map Service because of his sexuality. He appealed his firing, and although it was unsuccessful, it marked the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation in a U.S. Court. He also worked hard to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the APA’s DSM.

Credit: Simon Bruty