The fight for LGBTQ rights have been fuelled by several activists across the globe. The fights for right can be dated far back to 1924, when Henry Gerber founded The Society for Human Rights in Chicago. Over the years, activists have passed on the baton patiently fighting for their rights.
Here’s a look at 5 prominent LGBTQ rights activists that made a strong impact.
Ever wondered who was the movie Milk (released in 2008) based on? Harvey Bernard Milk was the first openly elected gay official elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Harvey Milk is arguably one of the most well known, respected visionary civil and human rights leaders. Milk's political career focused on government responsiveness towards individuals and gay liberation. Before beginning his political career, Harvey had served in the US Navy and had taken up several white-collar jobs in New York City, before he moved to California, where he opened a camera shop with his then-partner in Castro Street (the heart of the LGBT community in San Francisco). Seeing the level of oppression that the LGBT community had to face back then, Milk decided to run for the City’s Board of Supervisors. After a long struggle, Milk was elected on the board in 1977. Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978, by an angry former supervisor- Dan White who expressed his resentment against Milk’s civil rights bill.
Milk’s legacy has been highly cherished in the LGBT community. An NGO Milk Foundation runs across the globe with an all-volunteer staff.
In 2002, Milk was called "the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States". Harvey was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Marsha P. Johnson
In LGBTQ posters and events you see a person whose head is adorned with flowers and wondered who it was- Marsha P. Johnson. The “P” in Marsha’s name meant ‘Pay it no mind’, which was her response to questions about gender. When you speak about LGBTQ rights, Marsha’s name is synonymous. Johnson was an African-American gay liberation activist and drag queen.
Marsha came to limelight with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, in Greenwich Village New York. Marsha alongside Sylvia Rivera (Latina Trans Activist) played a key role in outcomes that came from the Stonewall Uprising.
She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) with Sylvia.
Marsha’s leadership and advocacy efforts for LGBTQ rights are noteworthy, which has been acknowledged by the community and beyond. Much of today’s activism and movements have origins of the legacy Marsha left behind.
In 2017, Netflix released a documentary on Marsha titled- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, detailing about her life and legacy.
In 1992, Marsha’s allegedly died of suicide. Her loved ones however disagree and in 2012, transgender advocate- Mariah Lopez got Johnson’s case reopened.
A public school teacher, vice president of the Brazilian Association of Homotrans affective Families (ABRAFH), and a mother; Alexya was born on November 18, 1980, in São Paulo, Brazil, and grew up under the name Alexander Salvador.
She identified herself as a gay man for several years, until her late twenties that she realized she was a trans woman. At the age of 28, she had her sex reassignment surgeries and has lived under the name Alexya Salvador ever since.
Alexya’s work in advocating for LGBTQ rights has been revolutionary in South America. Salvador is the first transgender person in Latin America in the clergy and the first trans woman to be a pastor in Brazil and also the first transgender reverend in Latin America.
In 2017, she held the first LGBT-friendly fair in Cuba and shared- “Tonight has been a night of celebration of equality between all people, marking a new era for Cuba”.
Salvador’s work inclusivity continues to impact people across borders.
Alexya is married and lives with her husband and three children in São Paulo.
Sandra Morán Reyes was born on 29th April 1960, Guatemala. Sandra shares- “Hate crimes against the lesbian, gay and transgender people are common in Guatemala. They face discrimination in health and educational services. You can be fired for being gay, your family can disinherit you.”
Sandra found this deeply disturbing, she decided to come out at an event, she wanted to show that it is possible to be lesbian and still be in Congress. Sandra is the first openly lesbian member of Congress in Guatemala.
Reyes organized Guatemala's first lesbian group in 1995 and its first LGBT pride event in 1998 in Guatemala. Sandra has proposed laws to fight violence against LGBT people and women. She has also put forward a gender identity law, which would allow transgender people to choose their preferred identity. This is the first time these laws have been presented in Congress in Guatemala. The government in Guatemala uses the line of family values to avoid talks about gender identity.
Sandra is determined and says that fighting for LGBT and women’s rights is the essence of her life.
Lawyers Menaka Guruswamy & Arundhati Katju
Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju are lesbian lawyers who fought to overrule the British era law of Section 377 of the Indian constitution, that criminalized homosexuality in India. Any person identifying as an LGBTQ person was liable for legal action.
Fighting the case, Menaka shared- “It is not nice to be a ‘criminal’ who has to go back to court as a lawyer to argue other cases”. For lawyers Menaka and Arundhati, it was a professional and personal victory.
The orthodox system in India crippled the expression of queer people, the scrapping of this law, brought ripples across the country. For a country with over 1.3 billion people, the judgment brought forward deep respite and happiness to the queer community. It also drew inspiration for countries surrounding the Indian subcontinent to use this judgment to overthrow anti-gay laws in their respective countries.
In June 2019, marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Queerty named Arundhati as one of the Pride50 "trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance, and dignity for all queer people". Menaka was featured in Forbes India's List of Women-Power Trailblazer, 2019.
We are far from achieving equal rights for LGBTQ people in our society globally, but with such able leadership and strength, it is certain that LGBTQ rights for people cannot be denied for long.
Also read "Who threw the first brick?"