We are inspired by amazing LGBTQ+ figures all the time, the influence of the community is pushing our world towards a place of acceptance, diversity, and love for ourselves and others. We are lucky to live in a world of ever-growing acceptance and change, and this probably wouldn't be achievable without the iconic figures through history and today.
Sylvia Rivera was a transgender woman who was one of the activists involved in the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots with her dear friend Marsha P. Johnson. In 1970, the first pride parades took place, though Sylvia and other transgender people were not welcomed. In 1973, she took part in the Gay Pride Parade, but was not allowed to speak publicly for it despite the work she had done for the community in her activism; Rivera took it upon herself to make her voice heard.
“If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” - Sylvia Rivera
In 1994, Sylvia was given a place of honour in the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn March. In 1997, she founded Transy House, which provided shelter to trans and gender non-conforming people who were in need. Rivera fought against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which finally passed in 2002. Sylvia dedicated her life to her activism, and with that, she has made a huge impact for the LGBTQIA+ people today.
Stormé DeLarverie was also an activist who was involved in the Stonewall Inn uprising. Stormé was a black, butch lesbian who was seen physically fighting back with the police during the events that took place. Stormé DeLarverie was also a male impersonator, which we now better know to be a drag artist; the term "drag" was not used much in the 1950s.
"Have you heard of the Stonewall Lesbian? The woman who was clubbed outside the bar but was never identified? [...] They were talking about me." - Stormé DeLarverie
Stormé was known at the time for her drag performances with the Jewel Box Revue, who was a racially inclusive touring company of female impersonators and the only male impersonator was Stormé. Stormé had a partner, a dancer called Diana, who sadly passed away after the Stonewall riots; this led to Stormé leaving the Jewel Box Revue to become a bouncer at some of New York's lesbian bars. Stormé didn't let her identity as a queer, black woman hold her back, in fact it served as more of a motivator for her. She recognised that her identity is authentically her, and that the only people who had issues with it were everyone else.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who was openly bisexual. Frida used her artwork to portray deep, taboo topics like female sexuality and feminine beauty standards. Her life as an artist began after a tragic bus accident, she was bed-ridden for over a year and would draw on her almost full-body cast. With this, her parents had a special easel made for her, provided her with her brushes, and had a mirror installed above her bed - birthing her career. Frida was married to painter and muralist Diego Rivera, though they divorced for a short while.
During her divorce Frida met Josephine Baker, a beautiful French entertainer, and she pursued a relationship. The 20th Century was unfortunately a time where bigotry was rife and it was unpleasant for queer people. However, despite this, Frida and Josephine, two bisexual women, defied social conventions with their relationship, and were famous for it! Frida also frequently dressed in men's clothing, which shows her power in defying societal norms of the early decades of the 20th Century.
Bayard Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and was a hugely influential organizers of the civil rights movement. Rustin was a gay man who was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and his sexuality was used against them by opposing parties. This sadly forced Rustin into the shadows to protect himself and his friend from the lies they were being threatened with. In 1953, Rustin was sadly sentenced to fifty days in jail and registered as a sex offender for having sex with another man. This was pardoned in 2020.
Rustin was the main organiser of The March on Washington, a huge demonstration rallying support for pending civil rights legislation. He was also a gay activist who became involved in the gay rights movement, advocating for equal rights for gay men, lesbian women, bisexual people and transgender people. The gay rights movement also sought to eliminate laws that barred homosexual acts between consenting adults, and it fought to end discrimination in employment, housing, public facilities, and other areas.
In 2013, Bayard Rustin was recognised for his actions when President Obama decided that Rustin deserved to posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This was long overdue and rightly deserved after Rustin had dedicated his life to the civil rights movement and the rights of queer people in America.
Courtney Act, or Shane Gilberto Jenek when out of drag, is an Australian drag queen who identifies as pansexual, gender fluid and polyamorous. It took time for Courtney to overcome the 'shame' she felt about their sexuality - it was marriage equality being passed in the US, where she was living at the time, for her to feel validated.
“As I get older, I realise that who I am – who I’ve always been – is the person that I should be,” - Courtney Act
Courtney joined a CBBC show in 2020 to spread her message of LGBTQ+ inclusivity. She told viewers that it's okay to be queer, and that it's okay to not fit into gender binaries. She also provided tips on accepting others, to be kind, and to stand up to bullying; Courtney struggled with bullying herself as a child. She recalls that the older she got, the more she realised there are people just like her all around, she just had to look a bit harder to find them after she'd lived a life of fear and isolation. Courtney's message of self love, kindness, acceptance and difference is important for children to hear, and she proves herself to be just the right person to spread this message.