June is Pride month, and that means 30 days of celebrating and honoring the LGBTQ+ community. It’s also a time to reflect on past and future challenges in the quest for equality and unity. There are countless people who have worked to further the rights and freedoms of queer folk or have shaped LGBTQ+ history in some way. These are just a few of them.
1. Marsha P. Johnson: The woman who started it all. Did you know the first Pride event traces its roots to the riots at the Stonewall Inn? When police raided the Inn, the only gay nightclub in Greenwich Village, Johnson was one of the first people to fight back. Post Stonewall, Johnson and her friend and fellow activist, trans woman Sylvia Rivera, spent decades fighting for queer rights in New York City and the rest of the country.
2. Ellen DeGeneres: Back in the 1990s, everyone’s favorite daytime host had one of the most successful sitcoms on television. During one story arc in 1997, DeGeneres’ character (also named Ellen), came out of the closet to profess her love for another woman (played by Laura Dern). It was the first time in history that a TV character had said, “I’m gay.” Around that same time, DeGeneres came out in real life too. (Photo via Luca Teuchmann/Getty)
3. Harvey Milk: One of the first openly gay elected officials in the country, Harvey Milk was a San Francisco city supervisor dubbed “The Mayor of Castro Street” for his prominence in the city’s gay district. Milk’s most important work was fighting California’s Briggs Initiative, a proposed law that would have banned gay people from working in schools. Milk was well loved by his colleagues and those in the community but was assassinated along with the city’s mayor by a former colleague only 10 months into his tenure.
4. Asia Kate Dillon: Known for their roles on OITNB and Billions, Asia Kate Dillon is a non-binary actor who uses they/them pronouns. Their Billions character Taylor is the first non-binary person on mainstream TV, and thanks in part to Dillon’s work to clarify where they fit during awards shows nominations, the MTV Movie and TV Awards changed all of their acting categories to be gender neutral. (Photo via Nicholas Hunt/Getty)
5. Laverne Cox: The actress and advocate is the first trans woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in acting, as well as the first transgender person to have a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s. Cox is also an advocate and activist who works to help people better understand intersectionality and make trans women visible in the media. (Photo via Leon Bennett/Getty)
6. Barbara Gittings: A groundbreaking lesbian activist, Gittings focused on equality for gay people and created publications focused on issues important to the gay and lesbian communities of the 1960s and ’70s. She also helped lobby the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
7. Audre Lorde: Poet, activist, feminist, and mother, Lorde is considered one of the first people to talk about intersectionality before the term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Lorde’s poetry is beloved the world over for her honesty, passion, and technical perfection.
8. Bayard Rustin: A prominent civil rights activist, Rustin helped organize the March on Washington and later put his experience to work in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
9. George Takei: The Star Trek actor famously came out in 2005 after California’s then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed same-sex marriage legislation. He later coined his now-famous phrase, “It’s OK to be Takei!” An active social media advocate, Takei has over 10 million fans on his Facebook page, and he regularly shares LGBTQ+ issues both there and while guest starring on the infamous Howard Stern Radio Show. (Photo via Larry Busacca/Getty)
10. Gilbert Baker: Artist and activist Gilbert Baker’s name might not be a household one, but his work is known to people all over the world. An Army veteran, Baker began a second career as an artist, creating the rainbow pride flag in 1978 after teaching himself to sew. The original flag featured eight colors, each symbolizing something important to the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo via Getty Images)
11. Dan Savage: Dan Savage’s sex and relationship column, Savage Love, has long been considered one of the best and most widely known pro LGBTQ+ columns. Savage and his husband Terry Miller also created the It Gets Better campaign in 2010 to help curb queer teen suicide. (Photo via Jamie McCarthy/Getty)
12. Valentina Sampaio: The stunning supermodel made international news in 2017 for becoming the first trans woman on the cover of Vogue France‘s March issue. Many fashion industry insiders noted that the annual March edition is second in influence only to the magazine’s famous September issue, making this an even bigger move.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ icons? Tell us @BritandCo!