Adam Polaski

Top LGBT Voices Name History's Essential LGBT Figures

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 10, 2011 10:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: ACT UP, Andres Duque, Bayard Rustin, Emily Heath, Irene Monroe, Jarrod Chlapowski, Larry Kramer, Latino LGBT, LGBT history, National Center for Transgender Equality, Roberta Sklar, Scott Wooledge, Stonewall

LGBTEncyclopedias.jpgThis last batch of personal "Top 5" lists from a selection of important voices in the LGBT movement (read Monday's and Tuesday's) reflects the diversity within our community. The eight people who shared their lists with The Bilerico Project collectively named 40 distinct LGBT figures or moments. Only two entries - Bayard Rustin and, if you group them together, Larry Kramer with ACT UP - were repeated. This demonstrates the breadth of LGBT people who have made important societal contributions throughout history.

It also demonstrates how unique each of today's lists are, as some commenter consciously tailored their lists to their personal areas of interest. Andrés Duque, the blogger behind Blabbeando, like many of our respondents, found it too overwhelming and selective to narrow down a "Top 5" list for the most significant LGBT figures and moments in all of history, so he limited his scope. He wrote to me, "I've opted to list a number of people who have made a recent impact on Latino LGBT culture. That might mean that this list is a bit more contemporary than those submitted by others, but I nevertheless wanted to celebrate the visibility they have brought to the Latino LGBT community."

Bilerico Project contributor Rev. Emily Heath decided to limit her list chronologically. She wrote, "It's nearly impossible to name people and moments from all of history, so I'm going to limit myself a bit and only include figures from the last one hundred years." Her list is more general and all-encompassing, whereas the one from Jarrod Chlapowski, development director at Servicemembers United, intentionally chose all military-related figures and moments. Irene Monroe listed LGBTQ people of African descent, and Roberta Sklar made sure to recognize some people she didn't think would be on other commenters' lists.

Some of the respondents, like Scott Wooledge of Daily Kos and Bilerico contributor Rev. Irene Monroe, just couldn't decide and opted to submit more than 5. That's totally fine. This project is not about creating clear and steadfast rules to how many important LGBT people deserve recognition for their contributions to society or to the movement. It's about calling on our collective memory, as a community, to remember significant figures who don't deserve to be lost to history.

As I said yesterday, "So many advancements in so many fields - whether it's science, art, politics, entertainment, civil rights, sociology, psychology, or even within the LGBT movement itself - have been achieved by so many people. These lists, then, attempt to preserve many of those names and ensure that their contributions are remembered."

American author Fran Lebowitz gives us some perspective on the importance of recognizing the history of a community that has influenced every field and sphere. "If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture," she once sad, "you would pretty much be left with "Let's Make a Deal."

Tomorrow, The Bilerico Project will publish the Top 20 list of the most-nominated LGBT names, a compilation of reader, contributor, and guest votes.

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Andrés Duque

Top Latino LGBT rights advocate and blogger

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Roberta Sklar

LGBT and women's rights advocate, writer, & former Director of Communications for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
  • Matt Foreman, former executive director of the NYC Anti-Violence Project, Empire State Pride Agenda, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; founder of Heritage of Pride; and member of Dignity in its formative years. Matt's continued work at the Haas Jr. Foundation and Federal Agency Project has advanced us forward.
  • Regina Shavers, founder of the GRIOT Circle, a cross-generational and cultural diverse social service organization that responds to the realities of older members of the LGBT and "two-spirit" community.
  • Amber Hollibaugh, senior strategist with the Task Force, worked with GMHC and Howard Brown Health, founder of Queers for Economic Justice, and a foremother and stalwart defender of the gay sexual liberation movement, bringing critical attention to women with HIV/AIDS and LGBT aging
  • Terry Boggis, founder of the movement for LGBT families with children by serving as NYC's director of Center Kids, a U.S.-based organization addressing the realities of LGBT parents and their children.
  • Paula Ettelbrick, an attorney who made critical contributions to the alternative family movement by serving as the first staff attorney at Lambda Legal, legislative counsel for the Empire State Pride Agenda, executive director at International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the Stonewall Foundation.

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Scott Wooledge

LGBT rights activist & blogger at Daily Kos
  • Harvey Milk, who beat the Briggs Initiative and still provides a helpful template to success today
  • Gertrude Stein, an innovative and very influential force in the arts at a key time who lived unapologetically as a lesbian long, long before it was OK.
  • Alan Turing, who cracked Nazi codes in World War II and was a key reason for allied victory, although he was persecuted by the English government for being gay, which came to a tragic end
  • Tennessee Williams & James Baldwin, prolific, talented writers who beautifully layered the gay experience into their work, even if only obliquely
  • Larry Kramer, who turned a complacent and apathetic nation around and forced our government to care for its dying citizens
  • Frank Kameny, the first to petition the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961 to address his firing for being gay, and co-founder of the Mattachine Society

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Rev. Emily Heath

United Church of Christ minister, pastor, and Bilerico Project contributor
  • The butch at Stonewall who yelled out to the crowd while being beaten by police, "Why don't you guys do something?" Her role is so overlooked, and her identity so often inaccurately represented, which says something about the non-acceptance of some gender identities in our community.
  • The grassroots activists from ACT-UP who provided the pressure needed to inspire real action in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
  • Every person who has had to combat workplace discrimination because of their LGBT identity. From members of the military, to teachers, to clergy, to every other person who has had to weigh the choice between staying closeted and safe, or be open and vulnerable.
  • Each American couple who has been denied federal protections due to the Defense of Marriage Act and the lack of equal marriage in our country.
  • Anyone whose gender identity or expression does not conform with the gender binary or their assigned sex. Those who choose to live into their full selves rather than into gender expectations deserve a prominent place in any LGBT history.

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Erika Kerr

Intern at The National Center for Transgender Equality
  • Bayard Rustin, who fought for civil rights all his life, was one of the key masterminds behind the March on Washington, and even taught Martin Luther King Jr. how to run a non-violent protest during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts
  • Chevalier d'Eon, the 17th century knight who managed to live the second half of their life as a woman with full knowledge of the court of France - some trickery aside. Gender variance has existed since the beginning of recorded history.
  • Oscar Wilde, writer, poet, & playwright
  • The Lawrence v. Texas ruling, as it seems like uncommon knowledge among younger generations that anal sex used to be a crime for which people were arrested.
  • Passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, extending hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation & gender identity

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Jarrod Chlapowski

Development director at Servicemembers United and Bilerico Project contributor
  • Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich appears on the cover of Time Magazine, bringing the issue of open service for the first time to the mainstream media (Sept. 1975)
  • Rep. Marty Meehan introduces the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005, the first legislative attempt to repeal DADT, providing an object for activists to rally around (March 2005)
  • General Shalikashvilli writes op-ed for The New York Times, reversing his take on DADT. Gen. Shalikashvilli was among the first of the 1993 DADT power-players to switch his position, setting a trend that would be followed by Senator Sam Nunn and General Colin Powell, and to an extent Senator John Warner when he called out General Peter Pace for his public opposition to DADT repeal on moral grounds. The last of the big five - Dr. Charlie Moskos - died before the repeal fight truly hit mainstream level (Jan. 2007)
  • 28 flag officers come out in support of the repeal of DADT before a backdrop of 12,000 flags on the National mall, representing every service member discharged up until that point (Nov. 2007)
  • Obama signs the DADT Repeal Act of 2010, which puts into motion a training program that normalized both orientation and the concept of gay and lesbian relationships to millions of troops (Dec. 2010)

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Rev. Irene Monroe

Ordained minister, religion columnist, motivational speaker, and Bilerico Project contributor
  • Audre Lorde, writer, poet & activist
  • June Jordan, poet, novelist, journalist & activist
  • Pat Parker, feminist poet
  • Barbara Smith, feminism activist who worked to sustain Black feminism
  • Joseph Beam, gay rights advocate who worked to link the civil rights struggle to the LGBT rights movement in maximizing African-American support for gay rights
  • Essex Hemphill, poet & author
  • Bayard Rustin, instrumental organizer in the black civil rights movement, member of Fellowship of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Rev. Peter Gomes, American preacher and theologian and personal mentor

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Bil Browning

Founder of The Bilerico Project
  • Ethiopian eunuch that Phillip meets on the road to Gaza in Acts 8, the New Testament's gender- and race- defying holy person who is welcomed with open arms as a symbol that no one is beneath God's love
  • King James I of England, who sponsored the English translation of the Bible and was history's first modern day hypocritical evangelical leader
  • Michelangelo, because anyone who can sculpt the statue David is truly a lover of the male body

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Tomorrow: Check back for the final Top 20 list, compiled by Bilerico Project readers, contributors, and special guests!

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Read All of Our LGBT History Coverage:

  • Part One: Mon., Aug. 8 - Kramer, Baldwin, Wolfson, Andre, Weiss, Rogers & Meronek
  • Part Two: Tues., Aug. 9 - Choi, Boylan, Conrad, Besen, Warren, Cheslik-DeMeyer & Lopp
  • Part Three: Wed., Aug. 10 - Duque, Sklar, Kerr, Wooledge, Heath, Chlapowski, Monroe & Browning
  • Initial Post: "Who Are the Most Important LGBT Figures in History?"


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I have a deep-seated fear of idolatry, and believe most real heroes are never recognized.

Not a very extensive trans list. The Advocate blew us off when they made a list of 100. Is Bilerico going to do the same?