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5 LGBTQ Figures that Have Changed the World

In honour of Pride Month, discover some of history’s most prominent LGBTQ figures and the lasting impacts they have created.

Pride is a time for celebration and acceptance. Rainbow flags are displayed wide and high, people flock to parades, and LGBTQ-identifying people and allies dress in their best Pride pieces. But it is so much more than that. It is also a time to honour and reflect on the people who have paved the way for gay rights activism or have become cultural icons through their work. 

Alan Turing

Mathematician Alan Turing played a pivotal role in cracking encrypted and coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many critical moments, ultimately contributing and helping to win World War Two.  

However, despite this previous success, in 1952 he was convicted for having a relationship with 19-year-old Arnold Murray. At this time, it was illegal to engage in gay sex, causing Turing to undergo chemical castration.  

He sadly took his own life at the age of 41 after using cyanide to poison an apple. 

Alan Turing was pardoned in 2013 from his previous convictions, which led to new legislation pardoning all gay men under historical gross indecency laws, including other influential figures such as Oscar Wilde.  

He has recently been voted ‘The Greatest Person of the 20th Century’.  We have a lot to thank Alan Turing for. 

Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Riveria

Sylvia and Marsha were both activists and close friends who both fought tirelessly for trans rights and equality.  

Sylvia Riveria was a queer, Latina, self-identified drag queen. Marsha P Johnson was a black trans woman and sex worker, who served and is still seen as a mother figure among the drag and trans community.  

Both women were present and at the forefront at the infamous Stonewell riotswith it being claimed that Sylvia threw the first brick.  

Together they founded S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group that focussed on provided shelter and support to queer and homeless youth. In addition to this, Johnson and Riveria continuously central figures at the beginning of the gay liberation movement of the 1970s in the US, including a tireless effort against the exclusion of transgender people in New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.  

Both women were significant activists, with Riveria meeting the Empire State Pride Agenda about trans inclusion on her death bed.  

Lili Elbe

Lili Elbe was a Danish transgender woman and among the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery.  

She was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener and was a successful painter using that name. During this time of success, she also presented as Lili and was introduced publicly as Einar’s sister.  

In 1930, Elbe went to Germany for gender reassignment surgery, which was highly experimental at the time. Four operations were carried out over two years. After transitioning, she changed her legal name to Lili Ilse Elvenes, the name Lili Elbe was given to her by a Copenhagen journalist. She stopped painting altogether.  

Lili began a relationship with a French art dealer named Claude Lejeune. She started to look forward to the future which included marriage and children.  

Her final surgery involving a uterus transplant failed. Sadly, her immune system rejected the transplant, and she developed an infection. She died in 1931 at the age of 48 after suffering a cardiac arrest brought on by the infection. 

Lili’s life was brought to the big screen in the film The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne, with the story inspiring thousands.  

Barbara Gittings

Activist Barbara Gittings created strong groundwork in the 1960s for marginalised people.  

In an era when it was dangerous to be out, she edited the Ladder, a periodical published by the first lesbian-rights organisation, the Daughters of Bilitis, creating a sense of national identity and providing a platform for resistance. In the August 1964 issue, her editorial heavily criticised a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease.  

Following on from this, Gittings became instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. In addition to this, she was involved in promoting positive literature about homosexuality to be carried in libraries.  

She was an activist who had a simple message when society said that being gay was a disgrace, she preached that being gay was okay.  

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