Influential LGBT+ Figures

Learn more about these influential figures!

As part of this year's LGBT+ History Month campaign, VP Inclusion Nesha and LGBT+ Rep Ailidh want to highlight 10 important figures in the LGBT+ community.


1. Baynard Rustin
 

Baynard was a leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights. Born in 1912 and raised in Pennsylvania he moved to Harlem, New York City to earn a living as a nightclub and stage singer. He was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti when he died in 1987.

He was a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement later becoming a leading strategist of the civil rights movement from 1955 to 1968. He was one of the organisers of the 1947 Freedom Ride. This two week journey also dubbed the Journey of Reconciliation, challenged the rascist state segregation laws on interstate busing. He worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., as his advisor, he helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King’s leadership. 

Baynard was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders due to his sexuality. They questioned MLK affliation with him due to Baynard's former association with the Commmunist Party and his 1953 public arrest for a homosexual act. Homosexuality was criminalized in parts of the United States until 2003. He was called “immoral influence” by segregationists to Black power militants, throughout the 1950s and the 1970s. 
 

2. Marsha P. Johnson


Marsha was trans-rights activist who played a big role in important moments for the LGBTQ+ movement, such as the Stonewall protests. Born in 1945 and raised in New Jersey Marsha relocated to New York City specificially Greenwich Village. In 1992, Marsha went missing and six days later police found Marsha’s body in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers.

Marsha was a self-made drag queen of Christopher Street, infamous for their unique design and costume creation. Settling on the name Marsha P. Johnson, the "P" standing for "Pay it no mind" - a phrase they used when people commented negatively on their appearance or life choices. In June 1969, when Marsha was 23 years old, police raided a gay bar in New York called The Stonewall Inn. Marsha resisted arrest, but in the following days, led a series of protests and riots demanding rights for gay people, known commonly as the Stonewall Riots.

Following the events at Stonewall, Marsha and their friend Sylvia Riveria co-founded STAR - Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries - an organisation to support gay and trans individuals who had been left homeless. This work earned Marsha the nickname of "drag mother" in the LGBT+ commmunity.





                                                              Baynard Rustin                                                                                                            Marsha P. Johnson


3. Billie Jean King
 

Billie Jean King is an American former world No. 1 tennis champion and staunch advocate for gender equality and social justice. Born in November 1943 and raised in Long Beach, California Billie Jean emerged as a talent in 1958, at 15 turning pro a year later. Billie Jean was most recently honored with the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in 2021 and has been with partner Ilana Kloss since her divorce from Larry King in 1987.

Billie Jean gained international recognition for the first time when she and Karen Hantze Susman became the youngest pair to win the Wimbledon women’s doubles title in 1961. Between 1961 and 1979, Billie Jean won a record total of 39 Grand Slam titles while off the court she camapigned or equal prize money in the men’s and women’s games. In the height of her competitive years, she formed the Women’s Tennis Association which worked tirelessly to make the U.S. Open the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to both sexes.

While experiencing great success in her profession life ?Billie Jean had realized that she was interested in women. As a married woman she began a secret relationship with a woman in the early 1970 and a decade later was publicly outed as a lesbian, and as a result, she lost all of her endorsement deals. After all the scuntiny Billie Jean remained committed to fighting for equality and freedom, and for the LGBTQ+ community.
 

4. Gilbert Baker
 

Gilbert Baker was the designer responsible for the LGBT+ Pride flag and self-described “gay Betsy Ross”. Born in 1951 and raised in Kansas Gilbert's small town teen year were not happy ones relocating to San Francisco after being stationed there as an army medic. In 2017 Gilbert was planning a visit to his childhood home but sadly passed away before he made the trip. He was set to be honored at the first annual Gilbert Baker Film Festival at Labette Community College.

In 1978 Gilbert alongside volunteers, filled cannisters with dye in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco and pieced together the first flags, unveiling them in the parade on June 25, 1978. This moment created the enduring international symbol of inclusion, peace and love that has been adapted to represent all of the LGBT+ community. Gilbert never owned a trademark for the design telling people 'It was his gift to the world".
 


 

                                                      Billie Jean King                                                                                                          Gilbert Baker
 

5. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir


Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was Prime Minister of Iceland from 2009-2013 and was the world’s first openly LGBT head of government. Born in 1942 and raised in Reykjavík Jóhanna was first brought into politics through her union connections while working as flight attendant. She holds the record for being the longest serving member of the Icelandic Parliament.

Jóhanna joined in a civil union with Jónína Leósdóttir in 2002 and in 2010, when same-sex marriage was legalised in Iceland, they changed their civil union into a marriage, thus becoming one of the first same-sex married couples in Iceland. Her coalition government elected in 2009 contained the highest number of women in parliament since voting began in Iceland in 1874.

 

6. Zanele Muholi
 

Zanele is a South African visual activist and photographer. Born in 1972 and raised in Durban Zanele is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns whose development as a photographer is deeply intertwined with their advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community in South Africa and beyond.

Zanele embarked on documenting black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s lives in various townships in South Africa in 2006. This came after seeing the continuing discrimination and violence faced by the LGBT+ community. Zanele wanted "to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond." 

Zanele has won numerous awards including the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism in 2016; the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; and a Prince Claus Award in 2013. Their work has been displayed in museums across the globes from Amsterdam to New York and London. 
 

                                                      
                                                     Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir                                                                                                    Zanele Muholi

 

7. Alan Turing
 

Alan Turing is refered to as the Father of Computer Science who worked as a codebreaker for the UK government, attempting to decode the Enigma cipher machine encryption devices used by the German military during the 2nd World War. Born in 1912 and raised in London Turing studied at Cambridge and Princeton during which he detailed a procedure known as the Turing Test, forming the basis for artificial intelligence. He died as a result of cyanide poisoning in 1954 according to an inquest.

His death came 2 years after his conviction for having a sexual relationship with a man which in 1952 was illegal in the UK. Instead of going to prison he agreed to undergo hormonal treatement designed to reduce his libido. He lost all security clearance after his conviction ceasing his consultancy work for British intelligence agencies continuting his academic jobs. He was officially granted a posthumous pardon in August 2014 and The Alan Turing law is now an informal term for the law in the United Kingdom serving as an amnesty law to retroactively pardon men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

He has been awarded varioud accolades since his death with Time magazine naming him one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century and stated, "The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine."


8. Alexya Salvador 
 

Alexya Salvador is a Brazilian teacher and reverend ordained in 2019, becoming the first transgender reverend in Latin America. Born in 1980 and raised in São Paulo Alexya is a lifelong Catholic, and at one point, she decided to pursue priesthood. 

Alexya grew increasingly disillusioned with Christian institutions due to their legacies of homophobia and transphobia so decided to severe her ties with the church. During this period she identified as gay and was searching for a church that would ordain a same-sex marriage to her partner, Roberto. That's how the couple found out about the Metropolitan Community Church where she and Roberto were married alongside 11 other LGBTQ+ couples in 2010.

Alexya is now a deaconess for the church and was one of multiple LGBT+ pastors who held a mass in Matanzas, Cuba that openly embraced queer and trans people. It was the first time a trans person held a Holy Communion in Cuba’s history.

                                                     Alan Turing                                                                                                                        Alexya Salvador 

 

9. Arsham Parsi
 

Arsham Parsi is an Iranian LGBT+ human rights activist living in exile in Canada. Born in 1981 and raised in Shiraz he volunteered for underground gay organisations in Iran and at 19 began an online group known as the Rainbow Group later renamed the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO). He kept his work a secret from friends and family due to the strict laws against homosexuality in Iran.

He fled Iran in 2005 after his work in the field of queer advocacy began to attract the attention of the Islamic authorities and they discovered his secret identity. He spent three months in Turkey as a refugee before his case was approved and in 2006 he arrived in Canada, his new safe country. He is dedicated to ensuring he will be able to return to Iran one day and enjoy freedom of expression.

Until then he works tirelessly to secure international refugee protection status for an increasing number of Iranian queer asylum seekers through his work with International Railroad for Queer Refugees. 


10. Lady Gaga

 

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, known professionally as Lady Gaga, is a bixsexual woman and actively supports LGBT+ rights worldwide. Born in 1986 and raised in New York City Stefani has long been affiliated with the LGBTQ+ community. From her all-accepting anthem Born This Way to her exuberantly camp dress sense, the star has become a modern queer icon.

She spoke out about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which banned open homosexuality in the military in the US at rallies and during the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards when she worse a dress made of raw beef. She has previously faced questions regarding her sexuality or preferred label and had to address her identity throughout her career.

                                                Arsham Parsi                                                                                                                              Lady Gaga