As homage to the abolition of Section 28 (which banned local authorities in the UK from presenting homosexuality in a positive light), each February the UK celebrates LGBT History Month: a look into the past of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
It is a month where we raise awareness, fight prejudices and celebrate the otherwise invisible heroes of the LGBT human rights movement. To recognise it gal-dem have compiled a short list of our LGBT favourites, who throughout history have shouted loud and proud, always recognising it as the right of any human to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
1934 – 1992
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Lorde was an American writer, radical feminist, womanist and civil rights activist who called herself a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She dedicated both her life and creative talent to addressing many social injustices and refused to be silenced for expressing her individuality. In addition to her poetry, Lorde wrote about her struggle to overcome breast cancer in The Cancer Journals. She focusses on the love received from the women around her throughout her experience and the possibilities of alternative medicine, also refusing to wear a silicon breast after the operation seeing it as a cover-up in a society where women are judged solely on looks.
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits. Her passions and inspirations lay with life, religion and nature, which she often painted or wrote about in her diaries. She captivated photographers and contemporary stylists have often tried to replicate her look in fashion shoots. She suffered many misfortunes during her life such as contracting polio, being severely injured in a bus crash and experiencing several miscarriages, but was always said to quickly bounce back and never lose her passion for living. Openly bisexual, Kahlo had many exploits with other women. One of these women was Josephine Baker, an American-born French dancer, singer and actress – the first black woman to star in a major motion picture – who was also offered unofficial leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the US following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.”
An American playwright and writer, Hansberry became the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway “Raisin in the Sun”. Although she married a man, Hansberry was believed to be a closeted lesbian and sexual freedom was a prominent topic in a lot of her work, as well as the struggle of racial segregation and feminism. She was an activist for gay rights and alongside joining the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organisation in the US, she wrote for their magazine The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication. She was also the inspiration for Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”.
Marsha P. Johnson
1945 – 1992
“Pay it no mind.”
Johnson was an African-American drag queen and gay liberation activist. She has been identified as one of the first to fight back in clashes with police during the Stonewall riots, also co-founding Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) where she got food and clothes together to help homeless young drag queens and trans women of colour. Later she became a prominent activist with AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, protesting on Wall Street about the extortionate prices of AIDS drugs. Once in court Marsha was asked by the judge what the P in her name stood for, to which she responded “pay it no mind”, which became her trademark phrase. Her death, ruled as a suicide in 1992, was only reopened as a possible homicide in 2012, twenty years after family and friends told police she was not suicidal.
Loretta Aiken A.K.A Moms Mabley
1894 – 1975
“I just tell folks the truth. If they don’t want the truth, then don’t come to Moms.”
Aitken set the standard for African-American 20th Century comedians and was known for her warm but raunchy stand-up routines, also releasing many hit albums during her career. She came out as a lesbian and was the first openly gay comedian at the age of twenty-seven and became the first female comedian to perform at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, a major venue for black performers. Aitken became known as “Moms” due to her motherly role towards many comedians in the circuit during the 50s and 60s. She also became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.
Although constantly saying ‘no’ to intolerance can feel like a laborious and dead-ended fight, it is crucial for political, social and cultural change. We owe to it to ourselves and to the people who are no longer with us to continue fighting for an end to ignorance.