March sees International Women’s Day celebrated, a day to highlight gender inequality, fight discrimination against women, and promote feminist heroes and ideals.
There have been many, many women who have fought for LGBTQ+ women’s rights, and today we want to celebrate 10 of these women by promoting what and how they contributed to this important movement across the generations.
Known for having had relationships with both men and women, Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter whose surrealist and magical realist work promoted feminist and anti-colonialist messages. Her paintings are famous for their uncompromising depictions of women, and for the (though complicated) importance of revolution. Using painting and outward expression as forms of activism, she has become an icon for both feminist and LGBTQ+ movements across the world.
While Lili Elbe was the first ever woman to undergo gender confirmation surgery, Christine Jorgensen is likely the most famous and is the first person to be widely known for having undergone gender confirmation surgery. After returning from her military service in WWII, Jorgensen travelled to Denmark for her gender confirmation surgery, returning to the USA where her transition made front-page news. She used her platform to advocate for transgender people and their rights, resulting in huge social influences in how we understand gender and sex and how these ideas need to be redefined outside of historical binaries.
Audre Lorde was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who used her writing to fight racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. She is especially known for her work as an intersectional feminist, fighting for women who are oppressed for more than their gender, but also their race, class, sexuality, and so forth. She is often considered a hero and trailblazer of anti-racist, LGBTQ+ and feminist movements, and there are several tributes and awards that now exist in her honour.
Three-time Grammy Award winner and composer of the soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980) and Tron (1982), Wendy Carlos was one of the first public figures to disclose that she had undergone gender confirmation surgery. After co-developing the Moog synthesiser, the first commercially available keyboard, she has become known for popularizing synth and electronic music. As an openly transgender woman, Wendy Carlos has fought transphobia in the music industry while working alongside some of the biggest names in the film and music industries.
Marsha P. Johnson
One of the most prominent figures who fought in the Stonewall Riots (and often credited with having started the riots), Marsha P. Johnson went on to be a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the organisation S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), and fought as an AIDS activist with ACT UP. Johnson also opened up a home for gay and trans homeless kids. She is one of the most revered people in LGBT+ History, with many tributes and awards named in her honour including the first ever New York State park named after an LGBT+ person.
Known as the ‘Mother of Pride,’ Brenda Howard was a leading organiser of the first ever LGBTQ+ Pride Parade, and popularised the use of the term ‘Pride’ and the idea that Pride should involve several days of events, not just a single march. She was an outspoken bisexual and polyamorous activist who not only fought for LGBTQ+ rights, but was a feminist and anti-war activist as well. She was especially active in the bisexual liberation movement, and helped found and organise several bisexual activist groups.
As a co-chair of Schools Out, a group fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in schools, openly lesbian Sue Sanders instituted the UK’s LGBT History Month. Later, she created ‘The Classroom’ an online resource for teachers, providing materials to teach LGBT+ topics in schools. An Emeritus Professor of the Harvey Milk Institute, the largest queer studies institute in the world, Sue Sanders has been a tireless LGBT+ activist for over 40 years.
Perhaps the most well-known and well-respected gender and queer theorists in history, Judith Butler’s scholarly work has had a huge influence on the way we understand gender identity and expression. As the chair of the board for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Butler has been intensely involved in both LGBTQ+ and feminist activism. She has also been an outspoken anti-war and anti-racist activist, and continues to fight for social change in her academic work.
Famous for her role in Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox is the first ever trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category, and the first trans person to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine. Cox has used her fame to promote awareness of trans people and advocate for trans rights. She has especially helped promote conversations around the intersection of race and trans identity, especially for trans women.
YouTube and reality TV star Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest publicly documented trans people, and an outspoken advocate for not only trans people, but trans young people especially. She is a founder of TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation and Purple Rainbow Tails, which both work to support trans youth and children. She has used her public platform to promote the validity of trans young people’s identities, and the importance of trans rights.
In the examples above, these LGBTQ+ women from differing generations have used a variety of approaches to fight for their rights. From artistic approaches like painting, writing and TV performances, to starting up activist organisations and events, to using academic or public platforms to advocate for change – these women have fought in their own ways to make the world a better place for all kinds of women.
The fight for gender equality isn’t behind us yet! What skills and opportunities do you have, and how can you use these to make the world a better place for everyone?