LGBTQ+ Hall of Heroes
We are where we are today because of our LGBTQ+ ancestors.
Come back to this page whenever you feel discouraged or hopeless, or just need a burst of inspiration.
Anyone I missed? Please email me & let me know!
(Please note: many of the historical figures featured here may not have identified as LGBTQ+ during their lifetime because of public safety and/or how we define LGBTQ+ today not existing at the time. Out of respect for our ancestors, I am not "outing" anyone here as LGBTQ+ as we cannot be sure if that would be their will, rather I intend to focus on their contributions towards LGBTQ+ rights & awareness.)
James Baldwin (1924-1987)
Openly gay American writer & activist who featured gay & bisexual protagonists in many of his novels & would address the intersections between Black & LGBTQ+ issues
"Everybody's journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality."
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
American transgender activist & self-identified drag queen involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Co-founded the Gay Liberation Front & S.T.A.R. (Street Trans[gender] Action Revolutionaries) which provided housing & support for homeless transgender youth in New York City
"As long as gay people don't have their rights all across America, there's no reason for celebration."
Two-spirit artist & cultural ambassador from the Zuni tribe of New Mexico who identified as "lhamana," or male-bodied person who performed social and ceremonial roles usually done by cis-gender women. We'wha shared about Zuni culture with historians to promote preservation of indigenous culture & two-spirit practices.
Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990)
Openly gay Cuban writer who documented homophobic discrimination under Fidel Castro's revolution in his memoirs "Antes due anochezaca / Before Night Falls" (1992)
"We would bring our notebooks and write poems or chapters of our books, and would have sex with armies of young men. The erotic and literary went hand in hand."
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
American writer and civil rights activist, self-described as "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." Her autobiography "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name" (1982) confronts intersectionality between racism, sexism, classism, & homophobia.
"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 & make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)
Gender fluid nun, philosopher, composer, & poet from Mexico (then New Spain) who wrote in Spanish & Nahuatl with a feminist edge far ahead of her time
“Critics: In your sight
no woman can win:
keep you out, and she's too tight;
she's too loose if you get in.”
Richard Isay (1934-2012)
American psychiatrist & psychoanalyst who as chairman & first openly gay member of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) organized a panel called "New Perspectives on Homosexuality" in 1983 that normalized homosexuality & argued against trying to change patients' sexual orientations. In 1997, with his influence, APsaA became the first US mental health organization to support gay marriage.
"Because my sexual feelings & impulses were so clear & powerful, I did not believe I was sick."
Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)
Openly bisexual German-American actor & singer known for her gender fluidity in her Hollywood film roles & her many love affairs with celebrities of all gender expressions . She was nominated for an Academy Award for "Morocco" (1930) in which she played a cabaret singer who kisses another woman while wearing a masculine white tie.
"I am at heart a gentleman."
Laverne Cox (b. 1972)
American actress who was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Prime-time Emmy Award in an acting category for her role as Sophia Burset on "Orange is the New Black." She has used her mainstream fame to raise awareness of transgender issues, especially for transgender women of color & has won numerous awards for her activism.
"It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist."
Langston Hughes (1901-1967)
American Harlem Renaissance poet & writer who was not open about his sexuality during his life, but included LGBTQ+ themes in his poetry in the spirit of civil rights activism
("Cafe: 3 a.m.")
"Detectives from the vice squad
with weary sadistic eyes
some folks say.
But God, Nature,
made them that way."
Harvey Milk (1930-1978)
1st openly gay elected official in the history of California. As city supervisor for San Francisco in 1977, a bill which he sponsored that banned discrimination in public accommodations, housing, & employment on the basis of sexual orientation passed & was signed into law. He was assassinated after almost 11 months in office by what some allege as an anti-LGBTQ+ act, causing the community to protest.
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
Juan Gabriel (1950-2016)
Mexican singer, songwriter, and actor. Although he was not open about his sexuality during his lifetime, he served in many LGBTQ+ communities worldwide as an icon of free expression & flamboyance.
In response to being asked if he was gay: "Dicen que lo que se ve, no se pregunta, mijo. / They say that what you can see, you don't ask, my dear.”
Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)
Spanish poet & playwright. Although he was not publicly gay during his lifetime, most likely due to censorship from the Fascist Spanish government, his close friend surrealist painter Salvador Dalí "outed" him in a 1969 interview, saying "He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me... Deep down I felt that ... I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dalí’s asshole.”
“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves."
Gladys Bentley (1907-1960)
Openly lesbian American singer, pianist, and entertainer who performed at speakeasies during the Harlem Renaissance under the stage name Barbara "Bobbie" Minton. She often sang about LGBTQ+ themes ("sissies" & "bulldaggers") in her music & would explicitly flirt with women in the audience during her performances.
"Some of us wear the symbols & badges of our non-conformity."
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Openly gay American civil rights activist who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr., behind the scenes to avoid homophobia after pleading guilty for a "sex perversion" charge in 1953. He brought Gandhi's techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience in India to organize such protests as the 1963 March on Washington. He later became an instrumental gay rights activist, testifying on behalf of the 1986 New York Gay Rights Bill.
"We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers."
Da Brat (b. 1974)
American rapper who came out as being in a romantic relationship with hair product mogul Jesseca Dupart in 2020. She is the first female solo rap act to go platinum with her 1994 album "Funkdafied."
"I've always been a kind of private person until I met my heart's match who handles some things differently than I do."
John Waters (b. 1946)
Openly gay American filmmaker, writer, actor, artist, & gay rights activist whose outrageous films included LGBTQ+ themes & characters & became mainstream in popular culture as early as the 1970's. He was one of the first filmmakers to feature a drag queen (Divine) to star in many of his films.
“My idea of an interesting person is someone who is quite proud of their seemingly abnormal life and turns their disadvantage into a career.”
Armistead Maupin (b. 1944)
Openly gay American writer of one of the 1st bestselling series of novels to feature openly gay & lesbian characters & LGBTQ+ venues in San Francisco, "Tales of the City," starting in 1978, which was turned into a popular TV miniseries in 1993. The 1980 volume features a heart-felt letter one of the protagonists wrote coming out as gay to his parents.
"Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living."
Dorian Corey (c. 1937-1993)
American transgender drag performer and fashion designer featured in the 1990 documentary "Paris Is Burning".
“Everybody wants to leave something behind them, some mark upon the world. Then you think you left a mark on the world if you just get through it, & a few people remember your name. Then you left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it is better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues & enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.”
Willi Ninja (1961-2006)
Openly gay "butch queen" American dancer and choreographer known as the Mother of the House of Ninja & the Godfather of Voguing dance style, featured in the 1990 documentary "Paris Is Burning".
"Voguing came from shade because it was a dance that two people did because they didn't like each other. Instead of fighting, you would dance it out on the dance floor & whoever did the better moves was throwing the best shade basically."
Candy Darling (1944-1974)
One of the 1st most famous American transgender actresses, featured in Andy Warhol's films "Flesh" in 1968 & "Women In Revolt" in 1971 & Tennessee Williams' play "Small Craft Warnings" in 1972, amongst other productions.
“I am not a genuine woman, but I am not interested in genuineness.”
Luiz Mott (b. 1946)
Founder of Grupo Gay da Bahia, one of the oldest LGBTQ+ organizations in Brazil. Also served as Human Rights Secretary of the Gay & Transgender Assoc of Brazil.
"However disengaged, closeted or pre-political a homosexual of the past or present may be, his insubordination to the canons of official morals represents a deleterious revolution that threatens to run the foundations underpinning male hegemony and heteronormative society."
Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
Openly bisexual British singer, songwriter, HIV/AIDS activist, & lead vocalist of the rock band Queen. Many of his song lyrics promote sex positivity & free expression of sexuality.
"My sex drive is enormous. I sleep with men, women, cats - you name it. I'll go to bed with anything! My bed is so huge it can comfortably sleep six."
Openly gay & gender fluid American singer, songwriter, & HIV/AIDS activist. Known as the "Queen of Disco," his song "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" is an LGBTQ+ anthem.
"The people that turned me out turned me out."
Cindy Thái Tài (b. 1981)
The 1st Vietnamese singer to openly publicize herself as transgender in Vietnam in 2006.
"I'm so happy. It means that the society accepts people like me."
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Openly bisexual Mexican painter who had many love affairs with both men & women throughout her marriage to Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Some of her paintings feature homoeroticism between women, as well as elements of indigenous Mexican traditions.
“Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit.”
Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949)
American psychoanalyst who from 1925-29 ran a treatment ward for gay men diagnosed with schizophrenia, discovering symptoms decreased when homosexuality was normalized. In 1940, he served on the American Psychiatric Society's committee to stop the U.S. military from banning gay recruits.
"In this culture the ultimate test of whether you can get on or not is whether you can do something satisfactory with your genitals or somebody else’s genitals without undue anxiety and loss of self-esteem."
John E. Fryer (1937-2003)
Openly gay American psychiatrist & LGBTQ+ rights activist who made an anonymous speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association (APA) annual conference disguised in a mask & using the name Dr. H. Anonymous. He advocated for the APA to stop including homosexuality as a mental illness in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM).
"We must... use our skills & wisdom to help themselves & us grow to be comfortable with that little piece of humanity called homosexuality."
Linn da Quebrada (b. 1990)
Openly transgender Brazilian musician & LGBTQ+ rights activist whose sexually provocative lyrics question cis-heteronormativity & racism found within LGBTQ+ communities. She is the subject of the 2018 Teddy Award winning documentary "Bixa Travesty / Tranny Fag".
"My black skin is my cloak of courage, it boosts my moves, it praises my queerness."
Margaret Cho (b. 1968)
Openly bisexual American stand-up comedian & LGBTQ+ rights activist known for her commentary on race & sexuality. She has won several awards for her humanitarian work for women, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ+ communities.
"I was like, 'Am I gay? Am I straight?' And I realized... I'm just slutty. Where's my parade?"
Lou Sullivan (1951-1991)
Openly gay transgender American writer & activist whose writings raised awareness of gay transmasculine identities. He advocated for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) & World Professional Assoc for Transgender Health (WPATH) to remove sexual orientation as a criteria for receiving gender-affirming surgeries.
"Now I know I MUST carry through with all my desires order to stay alive, aware & HUMAN... the isolation caused by my incomplete body is not all that important."
Ramon Novarro (1899-1968)
Gay Mexican-American silent film actor with a star on Hollywood Blvd & outspoken about racist representation of Latinx people in Hollywood films.
“You never see a high-class Mexican on the screen. It is always the poor, uneducated peasant or bandit. Consequently, the American people have come to look upon the Mexicans as a nation of cut-throats."
Native American Crow warrior who was one of the last known badés, or people assigned male at birth who take part in some of the social & sacred ceremonial roles usually filled by women in Crow culture. In the late 1890s, in response to American agent Briskow's jailing & forcing Osh-Tisch & other badés to present more masculine according to European standards, Chief Pretty Eagle compelled Briskow to resign & leave their tribal lands due to the disrespect against the sacred badés.
Persian poet & Sufi mystic whose wrote many homoerotic love poems for another Persian poet Shams Tabrizi.
"If anyone asks you / how the perfect satisfaction / of all our sexual wanting / will look, lift your face / & say, / Like this."
RuPaul (b. 1960)
Openly gay & gender fluid American drag queen & TV personality, host of RuPaul's Drag Race which has won 6 primetime Emmys & has served as a world famous platform for gender fluid drag queens to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, including HIV & mental health.
"You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me."
Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002)
American transgender activist & self-identified drag queen who co-founded S.T.A.R. (Street Trans[gender] Action Revolutionaries) which provided housing & support for homeless transgender youth in New York City.
"Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
Sappho (630-570 BC)
Greek poet from the isle of Lesbos, from which the term "lesbian" comes from. Despite her true sexuality being unclear, her poetry includes many homoerotic themes, & she has become a symbol of love & desire between women.
"Come to me now thus, Goddess, & release me / From distress & pain; & all my distracted / Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling, / Still be my ally!"
Vaginal Davis (b. 1969)
Openly intersex & genderqueer American punk performing artist.
"There were those of us who kind of felt sort of alienated in that we were too gay for this new punk scene & were too punk for the gay world."
Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968)
Openly bisexual (self-defined "ambisextrous") award-winning American stage & film actress known for speaking publicly about her sexual promiscuity in the 1930s with what might be known today as "slut pride".
“My father warned me about men & booze but he never said anything about women & cocaine.”
"Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power."