With India’s supreme court ruling to finally make gay intercourse legal in September, and the landslide of legalizations concerning homosexuality in 2016 and 2017, it seems as though after years the tide is finally turning in favor of those who are LGBT. (Even though transgender people still have some laws to fight before gaining access to the full scope of human rights.)
As we look to the future for progress, we need to give credit to the unseen activists of today who are trailblazing a new narrative for queer pride and LGBT rights. It’s important that we also turn back to history to celebrate the heroism and contributions of “hidden figures” who were crucial to the development and strength of the LGBT movement.
Because, ultimately, all gains made by the community are because of their activism, their sacrifices, their martyrdom and pain. No progress could ever happen without one of these brave people first standing up and speaking out, and others following in their footsteps. They do the hard work first so that the fight for equal rights is easier for generations yet to come.
Their stories need to be told to ensure they are remembered, even if they aren’t in the history books.
Age 36. Brazilian. Transgender. Pastor. Mother.
Salvador made history when she held Cuba’s first ever LGBTQ friendly mass in May of 2017. Here she and other trans pastors preached about God’s love and acceptance of the very community that is usually ostracized by religious organizations. In a communist country where formerly LGBT people were put into correctional camps, this is a huge deal.
Age 38. Iranian. Homosexual. Activist.
Parsi is a prominent figure in Iran for his work in helping the queer community. In 2001 Parsi assisted a doctor with research on HIV, and in 2003 he started his own underground liberation movement where members sought civil rights and freedom from oppression.
After fleeing persecution in Iran, Parsi was publicly flogged by authorities before he was granted asylum in Canada. In Toronto he founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees where other LGBT people from Iran and Turkey can go to receive aid and emergency relief.
Age 41. Indian. Transgender. Hijra. Artist. Activist.
From a young age, Aher knew that she never truly felt male or female. In grade school she was stripped and physically abused by her peers. At age 11 she attempted to commit suicide. Her mother worried, but still did not want her to make the physical transition.
When she was around 20, Aher found work with The Humsafar Trust, an LGBT organization used for resources, advocacy and outreach. It was after this Aher became interested in becoming part of the Hijra, a thousand-year-old community of people who identify as a “third-gender” in Southeast Asia.
Today she works as a TEDX speaker, and a consultant for many organizations including the India HIV/AIDS Alliance. Aher also runs her own dance troupe, Dancing Queens, where she and other trans women perform shows onstage.
Age 60. Taiwanese. Gay. Advocate. Activist. Civilly Disobedient.
Living under the marital law of the White Terror in Taiwan from 1949 to 1987 was a very oppressive time for Taiwan citizens. During this time over 140,000 people were imprisoned in an attempt to suppress protest and dissent about the Kuomintang Chinese Nationalist Party.
It was in 1986 when Chia-Wei presented a petition for gay marriage to be acknowledged by the government, and he was imprisoned for five months on false charges of robbery.
Thirty years later, Chia-Wei is a founding member of the movement for the legalization of gay marriage, with over 250,000 supporters in attendance at his December 2017 rally.
Recently he was granted the Pioneer Award at Taiwan’s first LGBT awards show Queermosa in Taipei.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera:
Age 38. Ugandan. Lesbian. Founder. Activist.
Nabagesera had no easy life growing up in a continent where, to this day, homosexual acts are a punishable offense in 38 countries. Once her sexuality began to show through as a child, schools acted on it, suspending and expelling her, as well as giving her special rules.
At just 19 Nabagesera founded Uganda’s LGBT movement. In 2010, Nabagesera and 100 others were outed in a Ugandan newspaper with a headline reading “hang them”. But the eventual murder of her friend David Kato, and many death threats, did not halt her activism.
In 2015 she created the LGBT publication Bombastic to expose the lies of the mainstream media and tell marginalized stories.
Deceased U.S. Activists
(1932-2007) Age 74. Lesbian. Bibliophile. Volunteer. Demonstrator.
Often referred to as the “mother of the LGBT civil rights movement”, Gittings helped shape its early beginnings in the 1950’s.
She got busy as the editor of the acclaimed LGBT magazine “Ladder”, and she became a member of the first lesbian rights organization in San Francisco, titled Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). While a part of DOB, Gittings participated in the first ever picketing of the White House for homosexual rights in 1965. Gittings also saw to it that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed the classification of “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as an illness needing to be “treated” in 1973.
To promote gay love and literature, Gittings joined the caucus “Gay Task Force” within the American Library Association, where she volunteered for 16 years.
(1934-1992) Age 58. Black. Lesbian. Mother. Feminist. Poet.
Lorde was an incredibly profound writer, focusing on the intersection where her identities as a lesbian and a Black woman met. She expressed her experiences with the pains of racism and police brutality, as well as the oppression that comes with being a lesbian in her collection of poems titled “The Black Unicorn”.
Her prose series “The Cancer Journals” was published in 1980 as a reflection of her struggles with breast cancer that challenged Western stigmas surrounding illness and a woman’s right to make decisions about her health.
Lorde was also a professor of English at John Jay college of criminal justice and Hunter college.
(1912-1987) Age 75. Black. Gay. Advisor. Pacifist.
Part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s close counsel, Rustin helped organize the famous March on Washington. Rustin recognized his sexuality during his teenage years, and in 1953 he was arrested on charges of “lewd conduct”. It was then Rustin decided to hide his homosexuality for the good of the civil rights movement.
In 1956, Rustin traveled to Alabama to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott and help Dr. King form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. There Rustin taught Dr. King pacifist ideals and all he learned from Gandhi.
New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. later told Dr. King if he didn’t “drop” Rustin, he would tell the press that the two of them were gay lovers. King, succumbing, cancelled the march in 1960 and distanced himself from Rustin.
This didn’t stop Rustin from going on to advocate for civil rights, and trying to bring awareness of AIDS to the NAACP.
(1951-2002) Age 51. Latina. Queer. Gender Non-Conforming. Poor. Sex Worker.
A close friend of Marsha P. Johnson’s, Rivera’s activism is often overshadowed in the LGBT community. From the age of 10, Rivera lived on the streets in New York City, immersing herself in an energetic gay community consisting of mostly drag queens and sex workers.
After meeting Johnson in the mid-1960’s, Rivera became involved in the Stonewall Inn Riots and gay organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. However, there she became increasingly infuriated at how “other” she felt in comparison to white, cisgender, middle class gays and lesbians.
So in 1970, she formed her own activist group to combat transphobia and racism, called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). The STAR house addressed the needs of poor street queens and other youth, who she called her “children”.
Rivera also joined a Puerto Rican group called “Young Lords” where she helped protest police brutality, and advocate for gay rights all at once.
For more hidden female LGBT+ figures, visit this informative website.