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5 LGBTQ+ pioneers from history you need to know about

5 LGBTQ+ pioneers from history you need to know about

In honor of LGBTQ+ History Month, we want to pay homage to the pioneers who changed the world and left their unique mark on us all.


For those of you unfamiliar with LGBTQ+ History Month, in the UK it’s celebrated every month of February and is a time to remember those who paved the way for many LGBTQ+ members. 

We have chosen 5 LGBTQ+ historical figures that you need to know about. 

Marsha P Johnson Charlotte Summers

Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P Johnson was an African-American transgender activist and pioneer from New Jersey. Their activism in the 1960s and 70s had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ community and spearheaded the movement.

Marsha said the “P” stood for “pay it no mind”, a phrase they used when people would negatively comment on their appearance or life choices.

In the 1960/70s being gay was classified as a mental illness in the US and gay people were regularly threatened and beaten by the police.

June 1969, when Marsha was 23 years old, police raided a gay bar in New York called the Stonewall Inn. Forcing over 200 people out of the bar and onto the streets, Marsha was one of the key figures who stood up to the police during the raids.

Having resisted arrest, Johnson and others including Sylvia Rivera, led a series of protests at the raids. Shortly followed in 1970 was the first gay pride parades, and Johnson and Rivera went onto found STAR (Street Tranvestite Action Revolutionaries) to support young transgender people.

Johnson dedicated much of her life to help others.

While being interviewed for a book in 1972 said her ambition was “to see gay people liberated and free and to have equal rights that other people have in America,” with her “gay brothers and sisters out of jail and on the streets again”.

Alan Turing Charlotte Summers

Alan Turing

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician, born in London in 1912. Working part-time for the British Government Code & Cypher school before WW2 broke out. 

In 1939, Turing took up a full-time role at Bletchley Park, where top-secret work was carried out to decipher the military codes used by Germany and its allies.

Turing’s most notable achievement at Bletchley was cracking the ‘Enigma’ code. The Enigma was an enciphering machine used by the German armed forces to send messages securely.

However, in 1952, Turing reported a burglary to the police, where it emerged that the perpetrator Arnold Murray was in a sexual relationship with him. 

As a result of anti-homosexuality laws in the UK in the 1950s, Alan was charged with gross indecency. He avoided prison by accepting chemical castration, which eventually left him impotent.

By the early 21st century Turing’s prosecution for being gay had become infamous. In 2009 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking on behalf of the British government, publicly apologized for Turing’s “utterly unfair” treatment. 

Four years later Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon.

Gladys Bentley Charlotte Summers

Gladys Bentley

Born in Philadelphia in 1907, Gladys Bentley was a blues pianist, singer, performer, and drag king pioneer.

She moved to New York at the age of 16 to start her career as a performer at Harry Hansberry’s Clam House. In the early 1930s, she headlined the Harlem Ubangi Club where she was backed up by a chorus line of drag queens.

Her signature look included a white tuxedo and top hat, which in that era was breaking all of the rules. Alongside her raunchy lyrics and flirting with women in the audience, Bently gained a reputation within the jazz scene.

Bently at the start of her career was openly out as a lesbian, however during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s, she denounced her lesbianism. 

In an effort to describe her supposed “cure” for homosexuality she wrote an essay, “I Am a Woman Again,” for Ebony magazine in which she stated she had undergone an operation, which “helped change her life again.”

She died of pneumonia in 1960, aged 52.

Harvey Milk Charlotte Summers

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk, a U.S. Navy Veteran who served during the Korean War, was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the US in 1977.

Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, his grassroots-based campaign and victory signaled a coming-of-age for San Francisco’s LGBT population.

His career was destined to enjoy a bright future both within San Francisco’s political realm as well as on the national stage.

But on Nov 27 1967, after a mere 11 months after taking office, Harvey Milk was assassinated with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. 

Audre Lorde Charlotte Summers

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was born February 1934, in New York City and went on to become a leading African American poet who gave voice to issues on race, gender, and sexuality. 

Lorde’s love of poetry started at a young age and she began writing as a teenager. Her life dramatically changed in 1968, where her first volume of poetry, First Cities, was published. 

She also was teaching a poetry workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, witnessing the first-hand racial tensions in the south.

It would inspire her second volume of poetry entitled Cables to Rage in 1970, which took on themes of love, deceit, family, and her own sexuality.

Lorde died on November 17, 1992, on the island of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Over her long career, Lorde received numerous accolades, including an American Book Award for A Burst of Light in 1989. She is remembered today for being a great warrior poet who valiantly fought many personal and political battles with her words.