Every October we celebrate LGBTQ History Month. While Equality Forum honors 31 LGBTQ people throughout history—we’ve decided we want to stick to remembering the women who have changed history for the better. These lesbian, queer, bisexual and trans women have made major impacts in the freedoms we have access to, and knowledge the world has about LBTQ women.
Basically, the world is a much better place because of these ten women and it’s time we get to know them better.
Because sadly, we still aren’t taught about LGBTQ history in our classrooms and that is a huge problem. In 2011, California even passed legislation that paved the way for LGBTQ-inclusive education. However, six years later students still aren’t learning about these women and other LGBTQ people that history has forgotten.
So we decided in light of LGBTQ History month, we’d provide you with a roundup of ten women we desperately wish we had learned about in school.
1. Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was many things in her lifetime: a feminist, a brilliant thinker, a civil rights activist and a poet. It was through her poetry that she was able to speak to the anger she felt about the social injustices she experienced as a Black lesbian woman. Lorde spoke eloquently about the issues Black women faced and how they differed from non-intersectional feminism. Through her book “Sister Outsider” you can read about Lorde’s experiences in navigating her sexuality and how she struggled to leave her marriage to a man for a fellow professor Frances Clayton, who she was partnered with for close to 20 years. Lorde’s legacy is continued through the work of the Audre Lorde Project and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
Favorite quote: “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
2. Jane Addams
While you might have learned about Jane Addams and her legacy of creating social work—her sexuality is often swept under the rug. Addams was a lesbian. The activist was inspired by the works of Charles Dickens in her aim to provide support for those less fortunate than she. Addams and her first serious partner Ellen Gates Started the Hull House, which served as a school and care center for children and, later, offered continuing education for adults. Addams was also monumental as one of the founders of the ACLU in 1920. Her identities as a feminist and a lesbian should not be pushed aside when talking about the impact she had on society.
Favorite quote: “Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled.”
3. Barbara Jordan
Jordan was a monumental person in the civil rights movement. As a lawyer, educator, and politician—she worked to create real change for Black Americans. She paved the way for Black women to hold public office positions as the first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, and the first Southern Black woman elected to the House of Representatives. She is famous for presenting the opening speech at the hearings of Richard Nixon’s impeachment. She was also openly partnered to Nancy Earl for over 20 years. The two met on a camping trip (oh how classicaly gay!).
Favorite quote: “We are a party of innovation. We do not reject our traditions, but we are willing to adapt to changing circumstances when change we must. We are willing to suffer the discomfort of change in order to achieve a better future.”
4. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major is known as a trans activist and one of the last living legends who participated in the Stonewall Riots. She is currently the Executive Director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, which aims to assist transgender persons who are disproportionately incarcerated under the prison-industrial complex. Throughout her life, she has continually fought for the rights of Black trans women and continues to do so today. Miss Major often speaks out about how when she first came out, she relied on the black market for access to hormones. And how she struggled with homelessness and relied on sex work to get by for many years. She advocates for radical change in the community—focusing on the intersectionality of poverty, race, and gender in situations related to incarceration, employment, and mental and physical health.
Favorite quote: “I’d like for the girls to get a chance to be who they are. For young transgender people to go to school, learn like everyone else does, and then get out there and live their lives, not afraid or thinking that the only solution for them is death.”
5. Gladys Bentley
Gladys Bentley made a name for herself during the Harlem Renaissance as a blues singer, pianist, and entertainer. At the young age of 16, she moved from her hometown of Philadelphia to New York City to impress a big Broadway agent. Bentley quickly became well-known as a drag king under the name of Barbara “Bobbie” Minton, and her signature outfit was a dapper tuxedo and top-hat where she was backed by a chorus line of fellow kings. She was known for singing raunchy songs with her deep and gravely voice as perused the crowd, flirting with women throughout her performance. Bentley said that her first marriage was throughout this revolutionary time in her life in New York. This marriage was to a white woman, though this woman’s identity remains unknown still, today. Aside from her musical legacy, Bentley subverted the way masculinity was perceived and was also a prominent figure in the Black community.
Favorite quote: “But they want a boy,” her friend said. “There’s no better time for them to start using a girl,” Bentley replied.