Being a lesbian, or otherwise sapphic person, your sexuality is hardly talked about outside of pornos made for straight men or Blue is the Warmest Color (really though, what’s the difference). Lesbianism is taboo, the go-to stereotype is angry, violent butch woman or straight girl making out with her straight best friend for the pleasure of onlooking frat boys. Lesbian women are even told by medical professionals they don’t need tests for HPV because they aren’t having sex with men.
Pride is difficult to have when no one teaches you about the changes people like you have made in the world throughout history.
You start to think you can either succeed while lying or be honest about your true self and get lost in the hordes of people who tried to make it and failed because society frowned upon them. It’s scary to know you have potential but feel like it can never be used because of who you love. To kick off a little bit of determination, and in celebration of pride month, here’s a list of nine influential sapphic women throughout world history. Remember, your sexuality is not predatory, it is not a fetish, and your love is not perverted. You are capable of amazing things, and being a girl attracted to girls only makes you that much stronger, that much more amazing.
You probably didn’t talk about her lesbianism in history class, but this influential feminist of the late 1800s and early 1900s loved women in both a gay way and a feminist way. In fact, she opened the Hull House, one of the most well-known settlement houses, with her college girlfriend Ellen Gates Starr, and kept it open with the help of her partner of 30 years, Mary Rozet Smith. Addams was awarded a Nobel Prize for her philanthropy and was named the “Mother of Social Work”.
Gittings was the president of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and led several protests, including a picketing of the white house in the 1960s due to the firing of homosexual government employees.
Audre Lorde was a black poet whose poetry focused on the issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Despite backlash from society, she never hid who she was, proudly calling herself “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”.
Highsmith is the author of The Price of Salt, a lesbian romance novel that broke conventions of portrayals of lesbian relationships in its time by giving the main characters (Therese Belivet and Carol Aird) a happy ending to their story, as well as allowing the women to express their sexuality in a way that was unprecedented for 1952.
Josephine Baker was a performer in 1920s Paris. She was a military correspondent for France during World War II and an advocate for black rights in America in the 1950s. She had an affair with Mexican painter and feminist Frida Kahlo, and allegedly was lovers with one of her fellow showgirls named Colette.
Kahlo was a Mexican painter who refused to let anyone tell her who to be and was equipped with an independent, fiery spirit. Kahlo is a feminist icon, surviving polio and a car accident that disabled her and made her unable to have children, which she desperately wanted. She continued to advocate for herself and do what she loved despite the pain she was often in. She had many affairs with women, notably one with Josephine Baker, as well as men.
Barbara Jordan was the first black Congresswoman elected from the Deep South who worked tirelessly to prove herself to the 30 other white male senators and made several strides for civil rights in the United States. She was with her partner Nancy Earl from the late 1960s to her death in 1996.
Woolf was an influential author in the 1900s. Looking back, her work is praised for its feminist content. She had an affair with fellow author Vita Sackville-West.
Often hailed as India’s Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil was a revolutionary painter of her time who began exploring her bisexuality as a teenager and painted a sexually suggestive image titled “Two Girls”.
This is hardly a comprehensive list and there are so many more strong sapphic women out there who deserve our respect and pride. This June, and forever after, remember that you can make a difference in this world, you can be remembered and revered by future generations, and your sapphism won’t detract from that.