Pride month is here, and it’s time to celebrate! It’s a time to rejoice in how far we’ve come as a community. It’s also a time to look around and recognize the ardent work that LGBTQ activists have done to make these changes come about. And, while we take a moment to recognize how far we’ve come, we shouldn’t forget that these gains are precarious in many ways and that there is still a long way to go before we can live freely and experience true equality.
Below are some phenomenal LGBTQ activists who have been and continue to shine a beam on the dark corners of our struggle for equality. Their work continuously makes strides around the world and, by doing so, inspires the rest of us to go that extra mile, speak out, and believe that LGBTQ people everywhere can and should live with dignity.
Each of these siblings alone does incredible work for queer and trans rights; however, together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Tourmaline, a queer-identified transwoman, is a prominent advocate and activist on various fronts. As a filmmaker, she has made movies that document the lives of prominent trans folks and organizations such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. As an activist, she has worked with many organizations, from Critical Resistance to GLAAD to the Human Rights Campaign.
Che Gossett, who identifies as trans femme, does their work in the realms of arts and academia. As an archivist, they write about black queer and trans culture and aesthetics for a multitude of publications such as the Transgender Studies Reader (Volume 2), the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Scholar and Feminist Online. They’ve been interviewed by the New York Public Library’s oral history project and have lectured at the MoMa and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Hida Viloria (USA)
Hida Viloria is an intersex, Latinx activist of Colombian and Venezuelan heritage, born and raised in New York City. S/he has written a huge body of text about her experience as an intersex individual and against the common practice of performing unnecessary cosmetic surgeries on intersex children and infants without their consent. He/r book, “Born Both” was reviewed by The New York Times, and her writing has been published by The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and CNN. S/he has spoken out for intersex rights on international platforms from the Oprah Winfrey Show to Al Jazeera and Casa Cerrado. He/r work continues to empower intersex people around the globe and to drive a change in attitudes and rights.
Chaya Milchtein (USA)
Chaya Milchtein is an activist making waves in the automotive industry by daring to be a badass automotive service provider and educator who is also queer, femme, and plus-size. In a field that’s traditionally been male-dominated, she made her way through the ranks of a car dealership and service center by learning everything she could about cars. She quickly became popular among her customers, who loved her ability to explain complicated things without the mansplaining. That experience prompted her to find ways to empower LGBTQ+ folks and women who are faced with automotive questions. She does this by producing online classes via her blog, Mechanic Shop Femme, and by promoting plus-size fashion and style in the social media sphere. As she recently told the Chicago Tribune, “I wanted to create a space where you not only had the right resource, you had it from somebody who was like you.”
Lyra McKee (Northern Ireland)
Lyra Mckee was a journalist and activist from Northern Ireland who spoke and wrote about the conflicts in her region and the consequences of war and violent struggles. Her most prominent work was the essay “Suicide of the Ceasefire Babies” which discusses the mental health effects of The Troubles on the generation that survived that era. Besides that work, she actively covered riots and unrest in Northern Ireland, spoke on the TEDx stage about the importance of having uncomfortable conversations to save lives, and wrote and spoke openly about growing up gay in an exceedingly religious community. Lyra McKee lived in Derry with her partner, Sara Canning, but was shot and killed in April 2019 while covering a violent riot between police and civilians. The importance of her work will live on forever.
Hoping Hou (China)
Hoping Hou is a lawyer and advocate for LGBTQ rights in China. In 2010, she founded LesGo, an organization to address gender and sexuality-based discrimination in Chinese society through education and outreach. More recently, she works on promoting LGBTQ rights through Outright International, an international organization with a voice at the UN. In a recent conversation with the Seattle Globalist she spoke about the importance of advancing both on a legal front by changing discriminatory laws against trans people for example and on a social front with education and outreach into the local communities.
Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju are the lawyers who, in what can only be called an act of legal heroism, reversed a 157-year-old law that had criminalized homosexuality in India on September 6, 2018. Both of these inimitable women are constitutional experts and fearless warriors when it comes to taking on the system to change laws that discriminate against variously marginalized people. Some of Guruswamy’s and Katju’s more notable cases include a verdict that would ensure free education to disadvantaged children at private schools, a case argued (and won) on behalf of a transman who had been unlawfully brought from the USA to India by his parents and held there, and, of course, the recent unanimous Supreme Court verdict that decriminalized same-sex sexual relations in the whole of the Republic of India.
Pepe Julian Onziema (Uganda)
Pepe Julian Onziema is a trans man living in Kampala who is an outspoken advocate for LGBTI rights in Uganda. Onziema has done and continues to do staggering work organizing educational and community events as Program Director at SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) and speaking out for the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans and confronting homophobic attitudes and other antagonists in the public realm as a personal advocate. He did the same while staying unbelievably calm in this appalling interview from 2012. Onziema was chosen as Hero of the Year by Stonewall Equality Ltd. for his outstanding organizing and advocacy work in the face of grave personal danger.
Alice Nkom (Cameroon)
Alice Nkom is a groundbreaking figure in Cameroonian society. As the first black French-speaking woman to become a lawyer in the country, she has made it her mission to represent those who have been marginalized and disadvantaged, with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ individuals. She founded the Association de Défense des Droits des Homosexuels (Association for the Defense of Homosexuality or ADEFHO) in 2003 and has since directed the organization. Nkom fights for equal rights for LGBT people through her work with ADEFHO, an organization that’s stated mission includes items like fighting against homophobia and discrimination through a vast campaign of advocacy and decriminalizing homosexuality by taking down Article 347 in the Supreme Court of Cameroon. She also keeps up the fight as an individual lawyer. She has represented and facilitated the release of hundreds of LGBT Cameroonians, despite threats of violence or arrest. No matter how harsh the opposition, it only fuels her passion to fight for LGBT human rights.