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October is LGBT History Month! We’re taking a look at LGBTQ2IA+ changemakers, pioneers, trendsetters, and heroes to ring in the month.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen progress in marriage equality, more representation of LGBTQ2IA+ characters in tv and film, and an overall global increase of social acceptance. It’s important to celebrate progress as we continue to make much needed change.
- 71 countries in the world still criminalize LGBTQ2IA+ sex acts
- 11 countries have the death penalty for same-sex acts
- Trans people are over four times more likely than cis people to be victims of violent crime
- Even in countries where gay marriage is legal, LGBTQ2IA+ folks endure job discrimination, discrimination from adoption agencies, and greater mental health challenges due to discrimination.
We know there is work to be done.
Past and present LGBTQ2IA+ trailblazers around the world have made it more possible to live openly LGBTQ2IA+ lives today.
Whether through activism, athletics, writing, acting, fashion, or politics, these changemakers have interrupted a long line of history that has silenced marginalized voices.
There are far too many known (and unknown) changemakers to fit in one post, so we chose 10 of our favourites. Who are some of your LGBTQ2IA+ icons? How have they inspired you?
- Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
You know pride started as a riot, right? There would be no pride parade without the work of Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson was a Black drag queen, trans activist, and vanguard behind the Stonewall Riots. When police raided the gay bar Stonewall Inn, patrons fought back, leading to what we have come to know as “pride.” Her middle initial “P” stands for “pay it no mind,” a common retort Johnson used when asked about her gender. Along with collaborator and friend Sylvia Rivera, they launched the STAR house, a shelter for LGBT youth on the streets.
- Simon Nkoli (1957-1998)
Ever wonder about who South Africa’s LGBT and HIV/AIDS activist hero was? Meet Simon Nkoli, who founded GLOW, the Gay and Lesbian Organization of Witwatersrand. In the 90s, Nkoli helped organize the first pride march in Johannesburg. He was also a strong motivator in South Africa’s ruling party to recognize gay and lesbian rights in the country. He garnered support from the African National Congress while in prison along with several other activists for a rent boycott. Nkoli is also one of the first African men to declare an openly positive HIV status.
- Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
Audre Lorde was a Black feminist lesbian civil rights activist, well known for her writing and lectures. She worked endlessly to confront myriad injustices like racism, sexism, and homophobia. Lorde often used her writing as a vehicle to explore inequities. Her teaching and writings have made tremendous contributions to critical race studies and queer and feminist theory today.
- CeCe McDonald (1989-)
CeCe McDonald is a Black trans woman and LGBTQ2IA+ activist whose story garnered international attention when she was sent to prison in self-defense after a transphobic assault. McDonald was sent to a men’s prison where her hormones were reduced. During her time in prison, McDonald’s writing inspired the campaign “Free CeCe!” Her experience shed light on the atrocities that many trans people face in the broken justice system, including harassment, being misgendered, humiliation, and violence from police. McDonald is now out of prison and has gone on to be an activist-in-residence at Barnard College; she is committed to dismantling the prison industrial complex.
- Dr. Myra Laramee (age unknown)
Curious about what the “2” stands for in LGBTQ2IA? In 1990, Laramee introduced the term “two-spirit” at the LGBT Native American gathering. Two-spirit is an umbrella term chosen by some indigenous people to encapsulate both the feminine and masculine spirit, but also pays homage to indigenous history and understanding gender as expansive. Alongside proposing the term two-spirit, Laramee is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation and a professor of indigenous knowledge.
- Alok Vaid-Menon (1991-)
Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender non-conforming activist, poet, public speaker, designer, and fashion icon. Vaid-Menon calls on people to challenge binary notions of gender and wrote a book, Beyond the Gender Binary. They have presented their work in more than 40 countries and use their platforms to confront shame and stigma that GNC folks face. They also have a gender-neutral fashion line after expressing there were “no clothes for non-binary femmes like me.” Catch some of Vaid-Menon’s colorful and expressive looks here.
- Colevia Carter (1952-)
Colevia Carter is a Black lesbian educator and HIV/AIDS activist known for organizing women around HIV education. In 1984, she organized the first conference in DC on women and HIV. She also led a program in correctional facilities where she educated incarcerated people on the disease.
- Caster Semenya (1991-)
Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic gold medalist from South Africa. In 2018, rules issued by World Athletics required some female runners whose bodies produce higher testosterone levels to medically lower their levels or endure surgery. Because of the regulations, Semenya was barred from competing in the 2021 Olympics. Semenya’s story highlights discriminatory problems with sex testing in sports, specifically for trans and intersex individuals. She is currently working on a memoir about her experiences as an intersex runner.
- Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin was a gay civil rights activist who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr fighting for civil rights. He also advised MLK on nonviolence practices. In 1953, he was arrested for having consensual sex with a man and forced to register as a sex offender. He was a primary organizer for March on Washington and became an advocate for the LGBTQ2IA+ community.
- Laverne Cox (1972-)
You might know Laverne Cox from her role as Sophia in Orange Is the New Black or her award-winning documentary Disclosure, about trans depictions and representation across media. Laverne Cox has been nominated for four Emmys. She has broken ground for being the first trans woman of colour to have a lead role on a mainstream series. She’s also the first trans woman of colour to appear on the cover of TIME. Cox uses her platform to advocate for trans rights and visibility.
The legacies of those who are no longer with us live on, in celebration, in memorium, in power.