6. Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha Pay-it-no-mind Johnson is a true icon in the LGBTQ community. Johnson co-founded the gay and transgender advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. She was also a known figure in the gay and art scenes of Christopher Street, often deemed the “mayor” and “saint of Christopher Street.” As one of the Stonewall Girls, Johnson was a legend at the riots that took place in 1969. It’s reported that Johnson threw a shot glass at a mirror in the torched bar screaming, ‘I got my civil rights’ on the first night. She continued her activism through ACT UP during the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s.
Favorite quote: “Now they got two little nice statues in Chariot Park to remember the gay movement. How many people have died for these two little statues to be put in the park for them to recognize gay people? How many years has it taken people to realize that we are all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean how many years does it take people to see that? We’re all in this rat race together!”
7. Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon
These two might be the most famous lesbian couple in American history. I mean, their love story alone is just about as gay as possible. The duo met in 1950, became lovers in 1952, and moved in together on Valentine’s Day 1953 in an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco (cue melting hearts). They often joined forces in their activism for gay and lesbian liberation, known as the founders of Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco in 1955, which was first social and political organization for lesbians in the US. They also were the first lesbian couple to marry in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the 90-year-old Lyon “laughed and laughed when told the news. ‘Well, how about that?’ she said. ‘For goodness’ sakes.'”
Favorite quote: “Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time.”
8. Alice Walker
Walker was born in Georgia when Jim Crow laws were still in place. She grew up and became one of the most acclaimed authors of her time, writing novels like “The Color Purple” and “Meridian.” Her parents worked 11 hour days on the farms so that Walker could attend college. Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in the early 1960s. She says that it was because of him that she returned to the South to join the civil rights movement and later volunteer to register Black voters. In 1983, Walker coined the term “womanism” as a term to describe Black feminism. Walker is also an out bisexual woman, known for her relationship with musician Tracy Chapman.
Favorite quote: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
9. Sylvia Rivera
Sylvia Rivera is a household name in the LGBTQ community—as she well should be. She was close friends with Marsha P. Johnson and co-founded S.T.A.R alongside her. Rivera was raised by her Venezuelan grandmother who didn’t approve of her feminine ways, especially when she started to wear makeup in fourth grade. Rivera then started living on the streets of NYC and was brought up by the local community of drag queens who named her Sylvia. Rivera was a part of the anti-war activism, the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism and LGBTQ liberation. However, her focus was on those who she felt the mainstream LGBTQ movements were leaving behind—namely trans women and sex workers. Rivera fiercely advocated for poor and homeless queer youth—to the point where many mainstream LGBTQ organizations banned her from their premise. However, her legacy as a badass activist and woman continues through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project—which is dedicated “to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.”
Favorite quote: “I’m not missing a minute of this. It’s the revolution!”
10. Rita Mae Brown
Rita Mae Brown published “Rubyfruit Jungle” in 1973. The book’s popularity grew on its own—no press, no ads—and this semi-autobiographical lesbian coming-of-age novel became one of the most popular books of its time. So much so that publishing house Daughters, Inc. couldn’t process the requested copies fast enough. Before this book was published, Brown was known as an activist. She got kicked out of school in the 70s for participating in the civil rights movement and was known for speaking opening about being a lesbian. She has gone on to author many mystery novels and other books that have become stand-alone names but “Rubyfruit Jungle” made such an impact on the lesbian community. Her legacy and impact should be highlighting in our history! She gave space and voice to a community that was so rarely given the spotlight.
Favorite quote: “It takes generations to create a community. What we have are people gathered together for comfort and consolation as a reaction to institutionalized depression—and thank God they’ve done it. That gathering has allowed people to gain some inner resources and fight back, and there have been victories. I look at that and I know I will not live to see what comes next, to see a genuine community that is no longer being defined by its oppressor.”