June 22, 2021

LGBQT+ History of Activism
The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of activism and community organizing. Like so many grassroots movements, the progress that has been made is the outcome of many activists coming together to develop steps to achieve social change. In 1969, the Stonewall Riots officially kicked off the gay-liberation movement, but many planted the seeds long before this event. Although it is not easy to narrow down all the influential figures and history makers who have stood on the front lines during this movement, we will attempt to mention some of the activists who played significant roles in the gains the LGBTQ+ community has made in the last century.

Alan Turing was a mathematician credited with creating the foundation of artificial intelligence and computer science. In the '50s, he told the police that he had homosexual relations with a man. The police arrested him for gross indecency. He received chemical castration as an alternative to prison and died in 1954 due to cyanide poisoning. James Baldwin is one of the most influential writers in history. In 1954, he published his groundbreaking novel, "Giovanni's Room", about a love affair between two white men. Throughout the rest of his writing career, Baldwin continued writing books and essays with LGBTQ+ and African American characters exploring sexual identity, racism and homophobia. Christine Jorgensen was one of the first people to come out publicly as transgender. After receiving hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery in Europe, she returned to the US in the 1950s and became a celebrity, as the media and the public were fascinated with her physical transformation. Bayard Rustin worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and organized the March on Washington. He was an openly gay man who often spoke about the importance of fighting for LGBTQ rights. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Barbara Gittings was a well-respected activist in the gay rights movement who fought on the front lines about normalizing homosexuality. Her work contributed greatly to the reversal of the American Psychiatric Association's belief that homosexuality was a mental illness.
In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California and one of the first in the country. He was assassinated one year after winning the election but during this time he helped pass the first gay rights ordinance in the country that protected people from being fired for their sexual orientation. In 2009, Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Marsha P. Johnson was on the frontlines of the Stonewall riots and is considered a transgender pioneer. After the Stonewall Riots, she and Sylvia Rivera became leaders in the community opening the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which helped transgender youth. Sylvia Rivera was also one of the activists involved in the Stonewall Riots in 1969. She joined forces with her friend Marsha P. Johnson and fought for the rights of many marginalized groups. In 1978, Gilbert Baker created the pride flag using the colors of the rainbow. He adopted eight colors for the stripes, each color with its own meaning, including hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. The rainbow pride flag was first flown in San Francisco on June 25, 1978 for Gay Pride Day. Larry Kramer was an activist during the AIDS crisis, working to raise awareness of the disease gay men were facing around the country. In 1981, he created the Gay Men's Health Crisis Organization, which was the only group devoted to helping those affected by HIV/AIDS.

The list does not end here. There are so many others in the community who contributed to LGBTQ+ activism throughout the years and who work both on the front lines and behind the scenes to achieve social change. Significant progress has been made in LGBTQ+ civil rights which has dramatically improved the legal protections - but challenges remain.

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Please watch:
How the LGBTQ Community Builds Resilience Through Activism: Ken Kidd Shares His Story - video length: 3 min