CW: This article discusses topics of suicide which could be distressing to some readers.
Sexuality is a complicated and very diverse experience. Almost like a thumbprint, the way you feel, think and are attracted to other people is so unique to you. It is important to who you are but also does not define it. The conversation around sexuality is ever-growing and educating yourself on those that you don't share the same experiences as is just as important as keeping in touch with yourself.
Every June we celebrate Pride Month, a month dedicated to honouring those involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. This was a crucial point for the gay liberation movement and had it not been for those involved, the LGBTQIA+ community would not be the same today. Whilst the society we have now is not perfect, the struggles endured to get to this point are worth educating yourself on. With that, here are 5 LGBTQIA+ figures that you should know about:
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was an African- American trans woman and drag performer. Her work as a trans and gay rights activist played a large role in the LGBTQIA+ movement, in particular at Stonewall and AIDs activism.
After graduating high school and moving to New York, Marsha shortly took to performing and adopted the name Marsha 'Pay it no mind" Johnson. This was her life motto, she used the mantra to overcome negative comments made on her appearance or lifestyle. Nicknamed the "Saint of Christopher Street", it has been said that Marsha's life was dedicated to helping others, notably when young gay/trans people would be kicked out by their parents. In 1969 when the Stonewall Inn was raided by police, the community fought back. Riots occurred and in the days following Marsha was vital in organising a series of protests demanding rights for gay people. Protests that were noticed around the world.
In 1992 Marsha's death caused uproar amongst the community and friends, originally declared 'suicide' many believe she was murdered. Twenty years on her case was reopened and changed to 'undetermined'. Despite this, her legacy and work will live on and be immortal in the eyes of what she has done for the community.
Johnson once said that as a child she saw the idea of being gay as 'some sort of dream', something she thought wouldn't be possible in her reality. Thanks to the impact she had on revolutionising gay and trans rights, it is something people today are able to celebrate.
Mathematician and code breaker, Alan has been named a 'gay man before his time'. Many have been made aware of Alan Turing through the 2014 film, The Imitation Game, which documented his work in World War II. Although this was a great way to explore his work and the discrimination he faced, it does not do justice to just how important he was.
Celebrated for deciphering codes developed by the Nazi Enigma machine and inevitably helping allies defeat Hitler, Turing was a visionary. His development of early computing lead to what we now know as 'artificial intelligence', not only this but he was a visionary and philosopher.
However, in 1952, Turing was arrested for the crime of homosexuality. He was a victim of chemical castrating and on 7th June 1954, the British mathematician acknowledged as one of the most powerful thinkers of the century; died a criminal. Under Victorian law, Alan Turing was unable to reach his full potential as an inspired thinker and it wasn't until 1967 that Britain started taking steps towards decriminalising homosexuality.
Only in 2009 did Gordon Brown acknowledge the wrongdoing from the Government, the Government Alan had worked to put an end to World War II.
"Were sorry- you deserved so much better... Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was, under homophobic laws were treated terribly."
Oscar Wilde's work is undoubtedly some of the most famous that we know today. The author and playwright was a leading figure in the 'aesthetic movement', his flamboyant style and wit will be admired for centuries to come.
Wilde was a classical scholar and studied for years to become the poet and author we know and in 1884 married the daughter of a prominent Irish barrister. However when his novel 'The portrait of Dorian Gray' was published in 1880, many criticised the 'homosexual allusions' and branded it 'unclean' and 'poisonous'. Wilde kept his sexuality a secret for many years but the year following this publication, he began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, a young British poet and aristocrat.
It was because of this that Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labour. In a time when one could not reveal their true feelings, putting it into his work Wilde will have managed to reach others and make them feel as though they were not alone.
Since rising to fame in her role as Sophia Burset in Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox has used her platform to become a serious advocate for her community. She makes a lot of time to speak on the importance of ally-ship and how discrimination pushes trans people, in particular trans women of colour, into homelessness and criminalisation.
She has discussed a scholarly analysis of legal developments impacting the trans community, in the audience of a supreme court hearing in 2019. Cox has spoken of how Trump's actions have only contributed to discrimination against trans people.
The actress, producer and activist also created a documentary "Disclosure" (2020). During which she examines the representation of transgender people and its effect on both the trans community and society's culture. She still works to change the systematic discrimination that members of the LGBTQIA+ still face today, especially those of colour.
Lile Elbe was a danish painter and a transgender woman, born 'Einar Wegener' her work under that name was largely successful. The Danish painter experienced gender dysphoria and was reported to undergo the world's first gender reassignment surgery.
It wasn't until later in life that Lile came to live her life as she felt was true to her, she spent much of her life as a man and married Gerda Gottlieb in 1905. It's said that she realised her true gender identity when Gerda had asked her (then-husband) to model women's clothing for her. Once Elbe began her transition, her marriage to Gerda was annulled.
Lile Elbe being the first documented to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, underwent 5 experimental surgeries. Unfortunately, she passed in 1931 due to complications not long after her final surgery, but because of her courage in encouraging modern medicine many people are able to live the life they feel is true to them,
Her story has been brought to screen in the screen adaptation of The Danish Girl (2015), although there has been some dispute over the lack of casting a trans-female lead.
We are fortunate that today we can live in a society that once criminalised many of us for simply loving who we loved. Although there is much work still to be done, it's thanks to these people that broke down the doors we get to walk through with ease.