Adam Polaski

Top LGBT Voices Name History's Essential LGBT Figures

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 09, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: American Psychological Association, Barbara Gittings, Dan Choi, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Leonard Maltovich, Michelangelo, Patricia Nell Warren, Ryan Conrad, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Truman Capote, Truth Wins Out, Wayne Besen

LGBTBlackboard.jpgYesterday, we began our look at some of the most important LGBT people in history who have made significant societal contributions. We're asking some of today's top LGBT voices to name LGBT figures or moments they consider essential to learn about. A Top 20 list, using the nominations/votes of the Bilerico Project readers and contributors, will be posted on Thursday.

The jumping-off point, of course, is the passage of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, the new law in California that, in part, requires schools to instruct about the societal contributions of LGBT people throughout history.

Yesterday, we heard from ACT UP activist Larry Kramer, Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson, U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, blogger Mike Rogers, bi activist Amy Andre, writer Toshio Meronek, and Bilerico Project associate editor Jill Weiss.

Below, seven more LGBT voices sound off.

Among them is A.J. Lopp, a longtime Bilerico Project reader who emailed us last month with the idea to compile this list. He labored over his own thoughtful selections particularly arduously, acknowledging that there's no way to name every important LGBT person.

These individual Top 5 lists like A.J.'s don't seek to be representations of the five most important lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people in the world. Rather, by viewing Top 5 lists from various LGBT voices, we can understand a broader spectrum of LGBT people who have made significant and far-reaching contributions to society. Even if 100 individuals devised their own Top 5 lists, we could probably see a representation of 500 distinct LGBT historical figures or moments. 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.

A bit of historical reflection never hurt anyone, did it?


Lt. Dan Choi

LGBT activist who led the public challenge of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" after serving in the U.S. Army and being discharged after coming out
  • Elaine Noble, first out gay person elected to a major political office (Massachusetts House of Reps. in Nov. 1974, four years before Harvey Milk)
  • 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
  • Frank Kameny, leader in the successful fight to force the American Psychiatric Association to declare gays not mentally ill and first out gay man to run for Congress
  • Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, founders of the Daughters of Bilitis and The Ladder
  • Tsgt. Leonard Matlovich, U.S. Air Force service member who purposely outed himself in 1975 to fight the military ban

* * *


Jennifer Finney Boylan

Author of She's Not There, the first bestselling work by a transgender American, columnist for The New York Times, and GLAAD board member
  • Harvey Milk, yelling into his megaphone, "I'm angry!" and urging everyone to come out
  • Mara Keisling, founder of the National Center for Transgender Equality
  • Donna Rose, who quit the Human Rights Campaign when it jettisoned trans people from the first failed ENDA
  • Amanda Simpson, first trans woman to be appointed by the President to serve in the Executive Branch
  • Ashley Love, who stood up at the NAACP GLBT panel to protest the absence of any trans people at the event

* * *


Ryan Conrad

writer, radical queer activist and organizer, founding member of Against Equality, & Bilerico contributor
  • David Wojnarowicz, painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, & activist with ACT UP/NYC
  • Angela Davis, American political activist, scholar, and author, associated with the Communist Party USA, the civil rights movement, and the Black Panther Party
  • Jean Genet, French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist that supported the black panthers and the Palestinian liberation organization
  • Laura Whitehorn, active in struggles from the civil rights movement to fighting the KKK and organized white supremacy to supporting Puerto Rican Independence to fighting for the liberation of women, gays, and lesbians.
  • James Baldwin, American essayist, playwright, poet, and author of Giovanni's Room

* * *


Wayne Besen

Writer, founder of Truth Wins Out, former spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, and Lambda Literary Award nominee (img src)
  • The American Psychological Association declaring us sane in 1973
  • The Lawrence v. Texas sodomy ruling in 2003
  • The Romer v. Evans case in 1996, when the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for Colorado to prevent cities, towns, and counties within the state to list LGBT people as a protected class
  • Defeat of the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California public schools, in 1978. Anita Bryant's 1977 "Save the Children" campaign set the template for the anti-gay movement
  • Marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2004

* * *


Patricia Nell Warren

Writer, author of the classic novel The Front-Runner, and Bilerico contributor
  • Leonard Maltovich , first gay service member to fight the ban on gays in the military
  • Barbara Gittings, who encouraged the American Library Association to promote positive literature about homosexuality in
  • John Damien, Canadian horse-racing steward who launched the first lawsuit in North American history contending that an LGBT person has the right to work
  • David Kopay, the first athlete to come out in a professional sport - football - in 1975
  • Virginia Uribe, a Latina teacher who, in 1984, founded Project 10 in the Los Angeles School District as the nation's first school-based support program for LGBT students

* * *

StevenCheslikDeMeyer History.jpg

Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

Musician, LGBT activist, artist, writer, and contributor to The Bilerico Project
  • Jasper Johns, contemporary American artist
  • Robert Rauschenberg contemporary abstract expressionist, pop artist, and National Medal of Arts recipient
  • Andy Warhol, painter, printmaker, filmmaker, & pop art leader
  • Truman Capote, writer and author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood
  • E.M. Forster, English novelist and short story writer

* * *


A.J. Lopp

Longtime Bilerico Project reader and commenter who conceived the idea for this list
  • Walt Whitman, poet, essayist & journalist
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, author, and activist
  • King James I of England, the man who served as producer for the most famous English language version of the Bible. The footnote that he was gay should not disappear into history.
  • Michelangelo, Renaissance artist, engineer, poet, and architect
  • Alan Turing, who broke the German's Engima Code during WWII and was hounded to the point of suicide by the British government for being gay.

* * *

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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Thanks for this. Reading this morning brings to mind the many, many everyday LGBTI heros I´ve known in my life--so many folks that I personally knew, sometimes loved but always admired, that they probably outnumber the ¨It Gets Better¨ crowd...perhaps a Everyday Personal Hero catagory might be a online place where we can all participate and honor those (living and dead?) whom have greatly impacted our everyday lives.
Thank you,
Leonard Clark/Leonardo Ricardo

This is for Jennifer Finney Boylan specifically. I found it interesting that the transwomen you mentioned have been active recently. Couldn't you think of others like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson for their work? Or maybe Sandy Stone for her "empire strikes back" essay and experience at Olivia records? How about Nancy Burkholder for standing up to Michfest? How about Christine Jorgensen?

Then there's transmen like Lou Sullivan who fought to give greater awareness to Queer FtMs and HIV. Reed Erikson who established the Erickson Educational Foundation.

I understand that these were your choices, but I'm just curious about how you came to your decision.

Thank You for the honorable inclusion, Adam.

By the way, my photo above was snapped by Bil Browning at an Indy Pride festival, in 2008 I think. When he kindly sent me a copy, he had no idea I would blast it all over cyberspace.