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Know your LGBTQ+ figures from history

Pride wouldn’t be what it is today without these historic LGBTQ+ icons

To celebrate Pride Month this June, we’re delving into some LGBTQ+ history by identifying and celebrating seven of the most influential icons of the community. From the 1700s through to the current year, here are some incredible figures from history who made the LGBTQ+ community what it is today.

Chevalier d’Eon

Born in 1728, Chevalier d’Eon was one of the first transgender and gender non-conforming people in modern European history. They were a French diplomat, soldier and spy as part of a secret organisation employed by King Louie XV.

 

They presented as both masculine and feminine in their lifetime until 1777.

 

That year, the king officially recognised d’Eon as a woman, so long as they presented as feminine for the rest of their life. King Louie XV offered funds to buy them a whole new wardrobe of feminine clothes and kept them on as a secret spy.

D’Eon is known by many for their influential fencing match. While presenting as a woman, they won a hard-fought fencing match against a French soldier. As a soldier, spy, and one of the first to legally transition, d’Eon was influential in the early days of both women’s rights and transgender rights. Definitely an LGBTQ+ icon to be proud of.

Read more: What exactly is LGBTQIA+ and how to avoid putting your foot in it!

Anne Lister

Anne Lister was born in Yorkshire in 1791. Both her status as a landowner and a lesbian earned her a place as an influential LGBTQ+ icon.

 

Lister was notable for her masculine gender presentation and ‘masculine’ position as a landowner.

 

Both were very uncommon for women at the time, making her stand out against the status quo. She is best known today as the main character in Gentleman Jack, a TV show based on her diary entries and letters to partner Ann Walker. The two considered themselves to be married, despite same-sex marriage being illegal.

Evidently, Lister was not one to follow conventions, no matter the mockery she faced. Gentleman Jack even names itself after a common insult for Lister, a modern-day slap in the face to those who mocked her. Needless to say, she’s an icon of LGBTQ+ history.

Radclyffe Hall

Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe Hall (known by her penname John) was an English poet and author born in the late 19th Century. She is best known for her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, a novel that cements her legacy as an icon of LGBTQ+ history.

 

The novel depicts a lesbian relationship – still very much taboo for the time – and ends with the incredible line, “Give us also the right to our existence.”

 

Unsurprisingly, it was banned for its ‘scandalous’ content, but that didn’t stop its influence. Radclyffe Hall’s work became symbolic of those unable to express themselves. It represented LGBTQ+ people unable to represent themselves in a world where self-expression remained a crime. She is an exceptional voice of LGBTQ+ history, having represented those who needed it most.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing is definitely one of the most well-known names on this list, and for good reason. As a World War Two computer scientist, Turing cracked the German cipher in an essential breakthrough for the war effort. He was also the source of many scientific breakthroughs, such as the Turing Machine.

 

Sadly, despite Turing’s crucial work, he was still prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality, undergoing outdated medical treatment to both ‘cure’ and punish him.

 

He died just two years later – whether this was suicide or poisoning remains a mystery. To this day, Turing’s name is attached to countless buildings, awards, computer programs and more memorials. As a figure of LGBTQ+ history, Turing is memorialised in the 2013 Alan Turing law, which pardoned him and many of their then crime of homosexuality. Homosexuality is no longer a crime in the UK today, and Turing is one of many to thank for that.

 

Pension Buddy AdvertApril Ashley

Born in 1935, April Ashley was one of the first people to undergo gender-affirming surgery in the UK. As a transgender rights activist, Ashley was prominent in the fight for equality. Even her own divorce case became a source of positive legal change for transgender people.

In 1970, her husband’s annulment request was granted, on the grounds that Ashley was not legally a woman. Despite losing the case, her story was used in the Gender Recognition Act 2004, helping the act to pass.

 

Through this, she was granted a change to her legal gender, being legally recognised as female at long last.

 

As a vocal transgender activist and a key part of the fight for legal recognition, April Ashley remains an incredibly influential figure in LGBTQ+ history.

Marsha P Johnson

Another of the most well-known names on this list, Marsha P Johnson was a self-identified drag queen and rights activist. She was a proud advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a key figure in the Stonewall riots of 1969.

The Stonewall riots began what we know as Pride today, a protest and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. Johnson was essential in the formation of Pride, with some even saying she threw the first brick, though this is actually just a common misconception.

 

Beyond Stonewall, Johnson was a vocal activist, forming multiple organisations to support fellow members of the LGBTQ community.

 

She protested for the rights of gay and transgender people, as well as supporting those affected by the AIDS crisis. Whether she threw the first brick or not, Marsha P Johnson will always remain one of the most influential icons of LGBTQ+ history.

Lady Phyll

Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, is a political activist, campaigning for both LGBTQ+ rights and anti-racism. She is the co-founder of UK Black Pride, formed in the hopes of uniting LGBTQ+ people of colour across the UK.

 

UK Black Pride is both a charity and a London-based Pride event. It celebrates LGBTQ+ people of colour, promoting unity and advocating for anti-racism within and towards the community.

 

Self-described as both a party and a protest, its contribution to LGBTQ+ history is essential, fighting for a more inclusive LGBTQ+ community.

Lady Phyll will undeniably go down in history as an influential icon of the LGBTQ+ community. And she continues to be politically active today, acting as Chief Executive of her own charity.

The future of Pride

We can learn a lot from the influential LGBTQ+ icons of the past. What unites us all is not our struggles, but instead the strength of our community. It is our united fight for a better future that makes Pride what it is today.

And it’s not over yet. We still have a long way to go in our fight for equality. To get involved, consider checking out the official Stonewall website for more information on events, charities and protests.

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Aiden Winn

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