5 LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Even though we have the privilege of being alive in the most LGBTQ-friendly time in history, we still have a long way to go in eliminating discrimination. From holding hands in public to dressing however we want to marrying whomever we love, every achievement has been made possible by generations of individuals fighting for the right to be themselves. In honor of LGBTQ History Month, here are five LGBTQ activists who changed history.


Sylvia Rivera - LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Sylvia Rivera

July 2, 1951 – February 19, 2002

A founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), and the Gay Activists Alliance, Sylvia Rivera was an outspoken activist for some of the most vulnerable members of the gay community – drag queens, homeless youth, gay inmates, and transgender people. Until her death in 2002, Rivera was a leading activist for the LGBTQ communities that she felt were being minimized by leaders in the gay rights agenda. Though she is known best for her activism in the fight for LGBTQ rights, she was also an advocate for broader issues in the civil rights movement like poverty and discrimination against people of color.


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs - 5 LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

August 28, 1825 – July 14, 1895

Known today as one of the first pioneers of the modern gay rights movement, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a German writer who came out to his family and friends and wrote publicly about his queer identity. In August of 1867, Ulrichs spoke at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich as the first openly gay man to speak out against the discrimination of homosexuals by urging the congress to repeal the anti-gay laws in place at the time. This advocacy was a catalyst that lead to the coining of the word “homosexual” and open discussion and eventual liberation that followed over the next century. Today, In honor of Ulrichs' legacy, the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents a Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Award for distinguished contributions to the advancement of sexual equality.


Marsha P. Johnson - 5 LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Marsha P. Johnson

August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992

Self-identified drag queen and gay liberation activist, Marsha P. Johnson was a prominent figure during the Stonewall riots in June of 1968. She has even been credited as being a primary instigator of the protest. In the years following Stonewall, Johnson cemented herself in drag history as one of the original Drag Mothers. Together with Sylvia Rivera, Johnson co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), an organization that, among other things, provided housing and support to queer youth and sex workers in Lower Manhattan in the 1970’s.


Tammy Baldwin - LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Tammy Baldwin

Born February 11, 1962

As a current United States Senator of Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin has made history in American politics. In 1998 she was the first woman to represent Wisconsin in Congress as well as the first openly gay woman elected to Congress from any state in the country. Then in 2012, Baldwin became the first openly gay woman elected to the United State Senate. She is currently a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has one of the most liberal voting records of any state representative. Baldwin is currently running for reelection in the 2018 midterms on November 6.


Edith "Edie" Windsor - LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History

Edith “Edie” Windsor

June 20, 1929 – September 12, 2017

Edie Windsor was an LGBTQ activist best known for being the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court Case United States v. Windsor which ultimately overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was considered a landmark legal victory in the fight for legalizing same-sex marriage. But that wasn’t Windsor’s only involvement in the right for LGBTQ rights. With a prestigious career in computer operating technology, Windsor was a pioneer in female representation in STEM fields. In 1975, after leaving her prominent position of Senior Systems Programmer at IBM, Windsor helped many LGBTQ groups computerize their mail systems and integrate computer technology into their organizations.


Sylvia Rivera & Marsha P. Johnson - LGBTQ Activists Who Changed History


Who are the LGBTQ activists you look up to? 

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