Welcome back to our “Amazing People” series. For Pride Month, we have compiled a list of 8 LGBTQ activists, creators, trailblazers and inventors who left an impact on the world.
James Baldwin was a prolific writer and activist. Baldwin’s interest in writing started at a young age when he got involved in his high school literary magazine and clubs. He worked as a preacher in a Pentecostal church from the ages of 14-17, and this experience greatly impacted his writing. After graduating from high school, he worked random jobs to support his nine siblings and parents. At the age of 24, he left the United States due to racial discrimination and homophobia and moved to Paris to pursue writing.
From 1948-1957, Baldwin wrote and traveled around Europe until he eventually purchased a house in Southern France. Although, he often returned to the U.S. and even purchased a place in New York. When in the United States, Baldwin would participate in events for the Civil Rights Movement. His writing was also very important to the Civil Rights Movement because, despite spending most of his time in Europe, Baldwin wrote mostly about the Black American experience. Baldwin’s first novel “Go Tell the Mountain,” while not one of his instant best sellers, is now considered an American classic. His works were and continue to be important to American life and the Black American experience.
Barbara Gittings is considered the mother of the LGBTQ rights movement. She was an activist for LGBTQ rights, beginning in 1958 when she started the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB)—the first lesbian civil rights organization in the United States. From 1963-1966, she was the editor of The Ladder which was the first lesbian magazine in the United States.
Gittings and a man named Grank Kameny organized activists from New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia for the first ever Gay and Lesbian Rights Rally. Known as the Annual Reminders, this rally was held on July 4th in front of Independence Hall from 1965-1969 and paved the way for the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. After the Stonewall Uprising, Gittings and Kameny suspended the Annual Reminder for a march in New York City that commemorated Stonewall. This was the first ever Pride Parade held in New York.
Gittings worked to include and promote gay literature in national libraries. She also organized with others to get the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from the DSM, which ended up being removed in 1973. Also in 1973, she helped to start the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In 2011, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) created the Barbara Gittings Award for Activism.
Information from: https://legacyprojectchicago.org/person/barbara-gittings and https://lgbt50.org/barbara-gittings
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. (“Pay it no Mind”) Johnson is considered one of the mothers of the modern Gay and Transgender Rights Movements. Johnson was at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York where LGBTQ people could have fun and be themselves, when the NYPD raided it. At the time, dancing with someone of the same sex and cross dressing were criminalized in New York, so there were very few places LGBTQ people could be out and free. Cops often raided gay bars and harassed patrons, but the bars were usually tipped off beforehand. On the night of the Stonewall Uprising, the raid came as a surprise. Officers began arresting and harassing people at the Stonewall Inn for participating in these aforementioned illegal activities, so the patrons fought back. Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera (mentioned below) were on the front lines. It is believed that Johnson “started” the uprising. The uprising lasted 6 days and was the catalyst for the modern Gay and Transgender Rights Movements.
While Johnson became known for her important role in the uprising, she also worked in the Gay and Transgender Rights Movements in other ways up until her death. She and Sylvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and the STAR home which housed people in need. It was also space for anyone to discuss the issues the transgender community faced in New York City. At the STAR home, Johnson was nicknamed “Queen Mother.” She also became a part of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) which was one of the very few gay rights organizations that included transgender people. Johnson posed for Andy Warhol’s paintings and photographs entitled “Ladies and Gentleman.”
Frida Kahlo was a painter known for her self-portraits that focused on Mexican Indigenous culture and gave attention to the female body and experience. Kahlo began painting as a teenager and continued throughout her lifetime. She painted often about the experiences of women and depicted physical and emotional pain in a lot of her work. Artists at the time considered her a surrealist painter, but she liked to call herself a realist.
Most of Kahlo’s 200 paintings were for herself, friends and family and not for the public. Although she did do some showings. Kahlo was self-taught and learned from her husband, who painted murals for a living, and her father. While most of her paintings were for personal use during her lifetime, her work is now showcased all over the world and sells for a lot of money. In 2000, one of her paintings sold for over $5 million. She has become one of the highest-selling female artists of all time. If you want to learn more about Kahlo’s life, you can visit the Casa Azul, or Frida Kahlo, Museum in Mexico City, Mexico.
Information from: https://www.fridakahlo.org/ and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/frida-kahlo-70745811/
Larry Kramer was one of the first and most outspoken activists against AIDS. In 1982, he and five friends co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an organization that supported and advocated for people with AIDS as well as increased public awareness about the crisis. This organization became the largest provider for people with AIDS for many years. After a few years, he felt the organization was not doing enough, so he founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). ACT UP members participated in controversial protesting strategies including outing public figures and disrupting news shows, churches, governmental proceedings and even the New York Stock Exchange. They also did AIDS research.
During this time, Kramer wrote “The Normal Heart” and “The Destiny of Me” which were among the first pieces of art to directly focus on the AIDS crisis. Kramer was famously “fueled by anger” and believed that all activism should be fueled by anger. While his views and outspokenness often alienated others, this trait is credited to immensely helping the AIDS crisis. Among his activism, Kramer focused on encouraging the NIH to talk to people inflicted with AIDS to help speed to process up for creating treatments. Eventually, the NIH took this practice on for other diseases, too. While HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the most infectious and deadly diseases in the world, great strides for treatment have been made, and they likely would not have been made as quickly if it were not for Kramer’s dedication.
Information from: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/27/512714500/larry-kramer-pioneering-aids-activist-and-writer-dies-at-84 and https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/larry-kramer-writer-who-sounded-alarm-on-aids-dies-at-84/2020/05/27/2afd55ce-a031-11ea-81bb-c2f70f01034b_story.html
Audre Lorde was an award-winning poet and professor of English. She published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while she was in high school. Ironically, her English teacher at the time rejected the poem before she got it published in Seventeen. In 1968, she published her first volume of poems.
Lorde’s poetry discussed identity. She wrote about what it was like to be a Black lesbian, a mother and a person with cancer. Her work explored the intersections of race, gender and class, and she evaluated her own identity through a global lens in her poetry.
Both in an out of her writing, Lorde was an advocate for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. She took part in the Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation and Anti-War movements. In the 1980s, she founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press with writer Barbara Smith. She also was a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa which worked to help women suffering under apartheid. Lorde received many honors throughout her career and posthumously, including awards for her poetry, honorary doctorates and poetry awards named after her.
Sylvia Rivera was an advocate who fought against the exclusion of transgender people, especially transgender people of color, from the larger Gay Rights Movement. Like her friend Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera was part of the 1969 Stonewall Inn Uprising. Rivera denied the accusation that she threw the first Molotov Cocktail at the police but did claim to throw the second. Resisting arrest, Rivera led a series of protests against the police raid during the 6-day conflict. She was only 17 years old at the time.
Despite the fact that Pride Parades began in 1970 to commemorate Stonewall, Rivera and other transgender activists were barred from attending. Or, if they did attend, they were not allowed to speak and were not acknowledged for their crucial role in the Gay Rights Movement. She fought against this discrimination and against Gay Rights leaders who removed transgender people from the narrative. Eventually, at the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn march in 1994, Rivera was given a place of honor.
In addition to her inclusion advocacy, Rivera started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and the STAR house with Marsha P. Johnson. STAR became a place where anyone could discuss the issues facing the transgender community in New York City, and the STAR house gave lodging to those who needed it. Rivera was only 19 but became a mother figure to many of the young residents. Eventually, River and Johnson could not afford to keep the STAR house, so it was disbanded. However, in 1997, Rivera started the Transy House which was modeled off of the STAR house. She lived there with the residents until her death in 2002.
Alan Turing was a British mathematician who is considered the father of computer science. Turing made huge contributions to mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, philosophy, mathematical biology, computer science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence and artificial life. He invented the Turing Machine, which essentially was the basics of what would become a computer. (It had all the logical principals that were included in the computer.)
During World War II, Turing and a few others were responsible for creating a code-breaking machine for the allies called the “Bombe.” It was modeled off a Polish code-breaking machine that no longer worked named the “Bomba.” The Bombe broke the Nazi Enigma Code, which helped the Allies win the war. It also led to the creation of the computer. The Bombe machines that Turing built decoded over 84,000 German messages per month. Turing was also responsible for creating a method that broke the encrypted messages from the German machine “Tunny.” After the war, he received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for his work.
Turing was involved in creating the first ever digital computer, completed in 1951. He also did work in morphogenesis—the mathematical explanation for how things grow—which became a completely new field in mathematic biology thanks to him. Towards the end of his life, Turing was found guilty of “gross indecency” (homosexuality) and was forced to do hormone “treatments.” Shortly after, while he was in the middle of groundbreaking work on artificial life, he was found dead by cyanide poisoning at the age of 41.
Thank you for learning with us! If you like this series and want to read more, you can find the previous articles here, here and here. Tweet us @portdiscovery with someone you think should be added to this list!
Learn More: Book Recommendations from the Pratt Library
The Enoch Pratt Free Library created a list of book recommendations for Pride Month, and here are the reccomendations for kids' books. Plus a few from the fiction and nonfiction suggestions for adults! All books are available at the Pratt Library.
Books for Children
- "The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights" by Archie Bongiovanni
- "This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us" by Katherine Locke
- "Too Bright to See" by Kyle Lukof
- "'Twas the Night Before Pride" by Joanna McClintick
- "The One Who Loves You the Most" by medina
- "The Rainbow Parade" by Emily Neilson
- "The Meaning of Pride" by Rosiee Thor