With this being National LGBTQ History Month, I also think it is important to celebrate the present. Our city, Cleveland, has had a few victories this year that definitely need celebrating. While we still have a fight ahead of us, acknowledging where we have made advances gives us strength to fight on. Share with me in this and know that each of you are a part of this.
All to often you can see lists of historical people that may have been LGBTQ and it is hard to know for certain how true that may be. There are many factors to consider such as what was culture like at the time, was this because there seemed to be an over familiar bond with a specific person, or was it a choice for purposes we don’t understand. When I think about LGBTQ people who have shaped our history, I prefer to look to the ones that were identifiable, as such. So here is a list of people I feel have truly shaped our history and moved us forward.
Alan Turing. For all of us that enjoy our phones for our apps, playing video games, wasting countless hours on Facebook, and playing with computers, be sure to thank Alan Turing. He is the father of modern computing. Turing also built the computer that broke the Nazi code in WWII. Turing also created the Turing test; if the name is unfamiliar you may have seen it in movies or books like I Robot or Ex Machina. It is designed to test artificial intelligence in relation to human intelligence. Turing hid his sexuality for most of his life due to homosexuality being illegal in British Government. He was arrested in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration for meeting another male for sexual interactions. He later took his life by taking cyanide due to depression. Sadly, we will never know what else he may have created due to the loss of this genius.
Barbara Gittings. Barbara, an out lesbian, started battling for LGBTQ rights at least a decade before the events of, the now famous, Stonewall. In 1958 she founded the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first Lesbian Political and Civil Rights Organization in America. Gittings is also credited for leading the movement that led to the changing of psychological and psychiatric views of homosexuality as a mental pathology. This was the groundwork that led to the 1973 American Psychiatric Association revoking the designation of homosexuality as a disorder.
Christine Jorgenson. “EX GI BECOMES BLONDE BOMBSHELL: OPERATIONS TRANSFORMS BRONX YOUTH,” was the headline of New York’s Daily News.” This was how she came out as the first out transgendered woman. This was years before the term transsexual was replaced with transgender. Her beauty, elegance, intelligence, and style gave a new voice and opened up the view that gender was not only a binary state. Jorgenson knew at a very early age that she did not fit the typical male ideal. She grew up, went into the armed services and served her country know she was out of place. It wasn’t until after her term of service that she heard about the reassignment surgeries that were taking place in Europe. She started her first surgery in 1951, once completed she returned to the United States and shortly after the famous headline appeared. She had a career as an actress, nightclub entertainer, and had several song recordings. Her celebrity status gave her the perfect opportunity to be one of the first transgender advocates.
The Wachowski’s. Okay, as a nerd, geek, fanboy, I hate to admit that I didn’t know this one. If you have watched Bound, the Matrix, V for Vendetta, or Cloud Atlas, then the Wachowski’s are the ones who have made those movies possible. They are also behind the acclaimed Netflix series Sense8. This trans woman sibling duo has been a huge influence on Hollywood. Rumors had spread since the early 2000s that there was a possible transition with Lana, but it wasn’t until 2008 that she officially came out as a trans woman, her sibling Lily would come out in 2016.
Bayard Rustin. In the 1940s and 50s being black was a hard enough struggle in this country, but Rustin was also openly gay. He stood on the forefront of the fight for Civil Rights, working to shape the future. He is responsible for helping set up the 1963 March on Washington that lead the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Many in the movement openly disapproved of their sexual orientation and made it quite known. Later Dr. King would speak out against homosexuality calling it a mental illness and distanced himself from Rustin. In 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on Civil Rights. His long time partner Walter Naegle accepted the award on his behalf.
Gov. Kate Brown. “On the day that I was sworn in as Oregon’s 38th governor, I experienced what it’s like to be labeled – to have my first two decades of service eclipsed by a single phrase: ‘the nation’s first openly bisexual governor,’ a phrase that appeared after my name in virtually every headline worldwide.” She as also made Oregon the third state to ban so-called conversion therapy on minors.
Rebecca Walker. Time named Walker as one of the most influential leaders of her generation. She is an author of several book about living outside of the boxes that society tries to force upon us. She wrote her first book at the age of 25 called “To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism.” She also wrote the book “On Big Happy Family” that talks about various aspects of modern love, such as: open adoption, mixed marriage, polyamory, and single motherhood. Walker is openly bisexual and the co-founder of The Third Wave Foundation, a feminist and activist foundation that works to support “the vision and voices of young women, transgender and gender nonconforming youth.”
When looking for role models, it is easy to see there are plenty for us to cast our eyes upon. Many who have made large steps forward in our struggle for equality. I personally tend to look for those who show strength of character and the tenacity to not be bound by standards of others. To look for modern influences as opposed to history where we are left on speculations of who they may have been. Also look to the future for the voices that are yet to come, they will be the new front line. Boxes are meant to be opened and boundaries are only limitations until we see we can reach far beyond them. Share in our history and let it push you to shape our future.