Adam Polaski

Top LGBT Voices Name History's Essential LGBT Figures

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 08, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, The Movement
Tags: Abraham Lincoln, Amy Andre, California, Eleanor Roosevelt, Evan Wolfson, FAIR Education Act, Jillian T. Weiss, Lady Gaga, Larry Kramer, LGBT History, Mike Rogers, Oscar Wilde, Sappho, Tammy Baldwin, Toshio Meronek

LGBTEncyclopedias.jpgWhen we asked readers last week to name the most important LGBT figures and moments in all of history, we received a wonderful response of readers commenting and speaking up about the LGBT people who they most wanted to ensure was not forgotten.

You see, California recently passed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, and the law, in part, requires schools to instruct about the societal contributions of LGBT people throughout history. The law is vague - perhaps intentionally so, to allow each school to develop its own curriculum. But the act's passage begs the question: Which LGBT people or moments will "make it" into California's history lessons? And which should?

This whole week, The Bilerico Project has some of today's biggest LGBT voices sounding off with their personal "Top 5" lists of the most important LGBT figures or moments in all of history. A number of Bilerico contributors will be joining non-contributors, including Larry Kramer, Dan Choi, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, in compiling their own mini-lists of significant people and events.

The lists are extremely varied, covering hundreds of years (from Alexander the Great to Lady Gaga), a good mix of significant moments and people (from the Stonewall riots to Harvey Milk), and every color in the LGBT spectrum.

The FAIR Act doesn't detail too many specifics. That is, it's not clear whether schools must now teach the LGBT rights movement as its own social studies unit, just as they would teach the civil rights movement, or whether schools will simply be encouraged to discuss the non-heterosexual sexual orientations of Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelangelo. The law, it seems, is designed to show that LGBT people have been around forever - and more than that, they've been contributing great things to the world for just as long.

The historical LGBT names could, as some readers and commenters have suggested, be separated into a countless number of categories, divided by historical era, "letter" in the LGBT community, geographic location, and whether the person's contributions to society specifically advanced the movement. There could also be a division between whether figures were confirmed or suspected to have been LGBT (the latter can be said about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton). But to specify categories would risk sneering at the incredible diversity and inclusiveness that we as a community can celebrate.

That doesn't mean the task was easy. Almost all of the LGBT voices represented in this week-long Bilerico feature complained about the difficulty of the task. How, they asked, could their list possibly be narrowed to just five? Just five in all of history?

But ultimately, over 20 LGBT writers, activists, speakers, and organizers - plus dozens of Bilerico readers - lent their opinions to the project. Each formulated their list in a different way. Mike Rogers and Larry Kramer went namely for famous public figures who just happened to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender but didn't specifically advance the movement. Rev. Emily Heath, on the other hand, chose less-famous figures from within the movement. Emily explained to me via email, "I wanted to choose some people who might not be on other lists. I've always been partial to the unnamed activist and the power of communities."

Check back this entire week for more individual "Top 5" lists, and don't miss The Bilerico Project Thursday morning, when all respondents' opinions, including our readers, will be tabulated and tallied up to arrive at a Top 20 list. Don't worry if your favorite LGBT historical figure isn't represented below - with 15 more "Top 5" lists on Tuesday and Wednesday, there's a good chance they'll be represented later this week.

The California Board of Education shouldn't even need to devise their own curriculum to teach the state's students about the contributions of LGBT people - with this list, dozens of activists have already determined what and who are most essential.


Larry Kramer

Founder of ACT UP, co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis, & playwright (img src)
  • George Washington, 1st President of the United States
  • Alexander Hamilton, founding father & 1st U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
  • Marcel Proust, French novelist and essayist, one of the first in Europe to write at length about homosexuality
  • Michelangelo, Renaissance artist, engineer, poet, and architect

* * *


Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-WI) (img src)
  • Stonewall Riots, June 1969
  • Harry Hay and the formation of the Mattachine Society
  • Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon and the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis
  • Harvey Milk, first openly gay men elected to public office in California
  • Passage of the first statewide gay rights law in Wisconsin in 1982, which prohibited job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation

* * *


Mike Rogers

Managing director of Raw Story Media, Inc., founder of Netroots Connect, blogger at, and fundraiser
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
  • Sappho, Ancient Greek poet on the island of Lesbos
  • Leonard Bernstein, American conductor and composer, including the music for West Side Story
  • Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Man
  • Michelangelo, Renaissance artist, engineer, poet, and architect

* * *


Amy Andre

Writer, public speaker, bisexual activist, & Bilerico Project contributor
  • Lani Ka'ahumanu & Loraine Hutchins, co-editors of Bi Any Other Name
  • Robyn Ochs, bi activist and community organizer.
  • Alice Walker, bi woman of color, environmentalist, and author of The Color Purple
  • Lady Gaga, out bi musician & activist
  • Angelina Jolie, out bi UN ambassador, Oscar winning actress, and human rights activist.

* * *


Evan Wolfson

Founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry (img src)
  • Alexander the Great, King of Macdeon, Greece and one of the most successful commanders in history
  • Hadrian, 14th emperor of the Roman Empire
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, author, and activist
  • Tim Gill & Jon Stryker, founder of the Gill Foundation & Gill Action Fund and founder of the Arcus Foundation, respectively

* * *


Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Associate Editor of The Bilerico Project and Principal Consultant for Jillian T. Weiss & Associates, consulting firm focusing on transgender workplace diversity issues
  • Oscar Wilde, Irish writer, poet, and playwright
  • Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first sexual minority advocacy group
  • Rita Mae Brown, writer & author of the lesbian-themed Rubyfruit Jungle
  • Audre Lorde, lesbian writer, poet, & activist
  • Sylvia Rivera, trans activist and founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance

  • * * *


    Toshio Meronek

    Writer and contributor to The Bilerico Project
    • Miss Major of the TGI Justice Project, the Stonewall veteran who testified before the United Nations on trans rights
    • ACT UP, whose protests, such as the Ashes Action in front of the White House in 1992, helped bring attention to the AIDS crisis when most were silent
    • Gay Shame, the group that speaks up for queers outside the gay mainstream
    • George Jackson Brigade, who connect struggles across race, gender, and sexuality lines
    • James Baldwin, writer & author of Giovanni's Room

    Tomorrow: Part 2, with Patricia Nell Warren, Dan Choi, and Wayne Besen!

    * * *

    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?"

    img src

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Alfred Kinsey, Bayard Rustin, Plato, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, Leonardo DaVinci, Lawrence of Arabia, Frances Bacon, Joan of Arc, Pim Fortuyn

Angela Brightfeather | August 8, 2011 5:06 PM

If you would like to know the most signifigant people in the Transgender Community from a historical perspective, contact IFGE and ask them for a list of people who recieved the VP Award and the Trinity Awards that are given out each year to those most deserving of recognition within the Trans Community.

Paige Listerud | August 8, 2011 8:20 PM

Five more famous bisexuals:
William Shakespeare
George Lord Byron
Margaret Mead
Mary Wolstonecraft

Paige, awesome! Thanks for adding to the list. I'd like to add author Christopher Isherwood, whose brave bi-centric autobiographical work from the mid-century is inspirational.

I would vote that some of the most important LGBT historical figures would be:

1. Dr. Franklin Kameny
2. Jack Nichols
3. Barbara Gittings
4. Kay Lahusen
4. Sylvia Rivera
5. Hal Call

Okay...that was 6 instead of 5...sorry! My bad!

"Passage of the first statewide gay rights law in Wisconsin in 1982, which prohibited job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation"

-significant in that it paved the way for the winning strategy of cis lgb's excluding trans people from basic protections. It sholuld be noted that there is no trans protections at the state level in WI, and as far as I know no real push to get them...

Don't forget that gays and lesbians didn't have a history until lesbian and gay historians wrote it. So I nominate two pioneering LGBT historians:

1) Jonathan Ned Katz, author of Gay American History (1978)
2) Lilian Faderman, author of Surpassing the Love of Men (1981), and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (1991)