LGBTQ+ History Month

Princess Diana 

It might seem strange to hear someone like Diana – a presumably heterosexual and cisgender woman – being associated with the word “queer.” Particularly during her lifetime, it’s a word that was often hurled as an insult. But it has since been reclaimed as an identity itself and an umbrella term for various identities across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Her public life was punctuated by events including gay people: she he had close friendships with George Michael, Gianni Versace and Freddie Mercury. It was reported that Mercury once dressed her up in “drag” and snuck her into a gay bar (whether it’s true or not, the fact it seems plausible speaks volumes). Elton John, another of her closest friends, famously performed ‘Candle in the wind’ – a song originally written for tragic icon Marylin Monroe – at her funeral.

In 1987, Diana was photographed shaking hands with AIDS patients, many of whom were gay. At the height of the crisis, she visited Lighthouse, a London residential unit for people with AIDS. Despite plenty of scientific evidence that HIV and AIDS could not be passed on y hugging or shaking hands, the stigma was still powerful. Gay men were treated like pariahs, ostracized by family and fired from their jobs. It would have been radical enough for a member of the royal family to visit a hospital where patients being treated for the so-called “gay plague,” but when the princess removed her gloves and shook their hands, she created a historic image.

Even LGBTQ+ people who have no love for the monarchy consider the images to be a watershed moment. The princess removing her gloves – a garment the Queen is known for wearing while greeting her subjects – created a symbolic closeness between Diana and gay men, which still exists today.

In 1991, Diana spoke at an AIDS conference. “AIDS does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug,” she said. “Heaven knows they need it.” To me, there’s something tragic about Diana publicly appealing for hugs for others, when it seems as though she spent much of her life feeling lonely and isolated.

Marsha P Johnson 

American activist, Stonewall Riots instigator, “Queen Mother” and “saint.” She moved to New York City in 1966, where her outgoing, ebullient personality made her a well-known fixture among the drag queens and trans women on Christopher Street. She was often homeless, but she was also known for giving her last few dollars away to someone who might need it more. When asked what her middle initial stood for, she would say, “Pay it no mind.” She was present in 1969 when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, proclaiming “I got my civil rights!” and throwing a shot glass at a mirror.

After Stonewall, as “crossdressers” were being shunted away from the mainstream gay rights movement, Johnson and her close friend Sylvia Riviera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. Securing a run-down apartment, they took in as many drag queens and transgender youth as they could, then hustled the streets to raise money so that their children wouldn’t have to. In 1972 she joined the queer performance troupe Hot Peaches, and in 1974 Andy Warhol painted her portrait as part of his series “Ladies and Gentlemen.” She fought for LGBTQ rights all her life, and later joined ACT UP to advocate for people with AIDS. In 1992, shortly after the Pride March, Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River. The police ruled it a suicide, and refused to investigate the death further.

Harvey Milk 

Gay activist, “Mayor of Castro Street,” and the first out politician to be elected in the United States. He grew up in a Jewish family in New York, and when he left school he switched between a variety of careers. He taught high school, served in the Navy, and worked on Wall Street. He also pursued a number of relationships, but at the time he was careful to keep his sexuality a secret. In 1969, Milk first moved to San Francisco, and more specifically to Castro Street, where queer people from across the country were taking up residency. In San Francisco, Milk encountered hippie culture and liberal politics.

With a backdrop of anti-gay legislation cropping up around the country, Harvey Milk was elected on a platform of small business rights and gay liberation. He became a close ally of Mayor George Moscone, and accomplished as much as he could during his short time in office. He sponsored a bill that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and another popular one that required dog owners to pick up their pets’ poop. He was also instrumental in voting down a proposition that would ban gay people from teaching, and that year at Gay Pride, he famously urged folks across the country to come out of the closet. Tragically, only 10 months after his swearing in, Harvey Milk along with Mayor Moscone were both assassinated by fellow supervisor Dan White. The city was devastated, but that devastation turned to outrage when White was sentenced to only seven years in prison. His lawyer had argued diminished capacity because, as a white Catholic firefighter, White didn’t “seem” like the type who would kill in cold blood, and furthermore he had been binging on junk food the night before, which was quickly dubbed the “Twinkie defense.” The verdict was met with rioting in the streets. Milk himself had been aware of the risk of assassination, and left behind a recording of his wishes in that event, adding, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” He has since become an icon of queer political action.

Justin Fashanu 

Justinus Soni "Justin" Fashanu was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. 

In October 1990, fearing that he was about to be outed by a national newspaper, Justin Fashanu came out as gay via an interview with The Sun. In doing so, he became the first openly gay professional footballer in the UK.

Once his playing days were over, Fashanu moved to the United States. In May 1998, he returned to London, where he took his own life at the age of 37. To this day, Justin remains the only gay male professional footballer in this country. His legacy lives on through the work of LGBTQ+ campaigners, the Justin Campaign and The Justin Fashanu Foundation, founded by his niece Amal. He remains an inspiration and a source of courage on and off the pitch.

Work is being done throughout the sporting industry to improve inclusivity as a whole, including both the LGBTQ+ community as well as ethnic minority groups.

RuPaul Charles 

RuPaul Charles is arguably the most commercially successful drag queen in America.  RuPaul became a national figure after releasing his hit song “Supermodel” in the early 1990s

Since Drag Race premiered in 2009, it’s received almost universal praise for its campy sensibility, its talented and funny contestants, and its celebration of gay culture.  Its producers call it a “show in drag”: it consciously mocks shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model even as it participates in reality TV conventions — it just makes them, well, gayer. It gained mass viewership, especially among LGBTQ audiences, by mainstreaming a part of gay life — drag queens and drag queen culture — never before seen as the subject of a TV show.

By pioneering queer representation on television, many believe RuPaul to have essentially revolutionised the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community on screen.

[RuPaul has built his fame on activism. He has made his place in the Drag community, and had gained a lot of acknowledgment for bringing light to the Drag community. Although he has stood for men in drag, and wants gender norms to be broken; he does not stand for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, having made derogatory comments throughout his career towards a number of different communities, making it difficult to draw the line between RuPaul Charles and his drag counterpart.]

Oscar Wilde 

Oscar Wilde is one of the famous playwrights of all time, in fact, you might even have studied 'The Importance of Being Earnest' - one of his most famous plays - at school. He was married to a woman and had two sons, but was later accused of being homosexual which ultimately he was imprisoned for.

Wilde was the toast of the town, invited to all the parties and known for his biting banter and wit. In 1891, Wilde met Lorde Alfred Douglas, or “Bosie” to his friends. Douglas was not Wilde’s first homosexual affair, but it was certainly the most intense and, ultimately, ruinous. When Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, accused Wilde of being a “posing somdomite” [sic] on a public calling card, Douglas convinced Wilde to sue him for libel—against the advice of friends such as Frank Harris and George Bernard Shaw. The trial quickly backfired when the defense provided several male sex workers Wilde had slept with, and the case was dropped in favor of prosecuting Wilde instead. He became one of the first, and certainly most famous, people convicted under the UK’s “gross indecency” laws, and he was given its harshest sentence: two years’ hard labor. He died only a few years after his release, separated from his wife and reunited with Douglas (who did not once visit or write while Wilde was in prison). While he never apologized for his relationships—in fact, he defended them beautifully in court—he didn’t quite identify as homosexual, believing instead that he was imprisoned for being an artist and a nonconformist. Yet being so famously outed turned him into a permanent icon for the burgeoning gay community.

Alan Turing 

Alan Turing was not a well known figure during his lifetime, but today he is famous and celebrated for the crucial part he played in the victory over Nazi Germany in WW2

Turing was a mathematician who cracked something called the Enigma code, which is thought to have shortened the war by several years.

He was also a victim of mid-20th Century attitudes to homosexuality and in 1952 was arrested because being homosexual was illegal in Britain at this time.

In 2013 he was pardoned for this 'crime', and in 2017 the government agreed to officially pardon other people convicted of these ‘crimes’, meaning they will no longer have a criminal record.

This pardoning has come to be known as the Alan Turing law.

In 2019 Turing was named the most "iconic" figure of the 20th Century and his face now appears on the £50 note.

Sylvia Riviera 

It is believed Sylvia threw the first brick at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 which is believed by some to be the catalyst in inciting the ensuing riots this moment convinced her that the revolution had begun. She became involved with various gay liberation groups, but was disillusioned as mainstream gay rights distanced themselves from anyone who was gender-variant.

With her close friend Marsha P. Johnson, she founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. Securing a run-down apartment, they took in as many drag queens and transgender youth as they could, then hustled the streets to raise money so that their children wouldn’t have to.

Rivera fought not only for the trans community, but for anyone who was underserved: black, latino, imprisoned, or homeless. For the middle part of her life, she moved away from activism and from New York City, although drug abuse eventually forced her back onto the streets. She found a place at a shelter for transgender people that was modeled off of her own work with STAR; it was there she met her partner Julia Murray. In the 90s, she returned to the fight, and became an advocate for trans protection under the New York Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. Only hours before her death, Rivera was meeting with community organizers from her hospital bed to fight for inclusion. (The bill eventually passed without such inclusion; its gender expression counterpart, GENDA, didn't pass in New York state until 2019.)

Michael Dillon 

"People thought I was a woman. But I wasn't. I was just me."

- Dr. Michael Dillon

Assigned female at birth, Michael Dillon is the first transgender man known to have undergone gender confirmation surgery. Drawn to the Church, he graduated from St. Anne's College in 1938 with a degree in theology. Knowing that women’s opportunities were limited, Dillon obtained a prescription for synthetic testosterone in 1939, underwent chest reconstruction in 1942, and re-registered as Lawrence Michael Dillon on April 14, 1944. While in transition, Dillon wrote the first medico-legal treatise on gender confirmation surgeries, laying the groundwork for what would come to be called transgenderism Dillon later received a total of  thirteen surgeries to complete his phalloplasty between 1945 and 1949.

After completing medical school, he served as a ship's surgeon in the Merchant Navy. When the media exposed his transgender identity in 1959, he took refuge in the practice of Buddhism. Before he was to be ordained as a monk he succumbed to an unknown illness in India and died on May 15, 1962.

Gilbert Baker 

World-famous political activist, designer and flag-maker Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) created the Rainbow Flag in 1978. Over the next four decades, his creation would become embraced across the world as the universal symbol of the LGBTQ+ movement.

Baker was born in Kansas in 1951, and suffered while growing up in a conservative state. He was drawn to art and fashion design as a child, which alienated him from peers. He hoped that being drafted into the US Army would be his escape, but he encountered severe homophobia during his time in basic training. When he opted to become a medic, Gilbert was stationed in San Francisco. There he found a home as an openly gay man, thriving in the counterculture movement of the post-Stonewall era.

After completing military service, Gilbert used his artistic talents in his political efforts, creating banners for anti-war and pro-gay marches and protests. At the suggestion of friends and colleagues, including San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, Gilbert began work on the creation of a new symbol for the gay and lesbian political movement. He sought to replace the pink triangle, a Nazi relic from World War II. Working with friends, he dyed and sewed the first Rainbow Flags. On June 25, 1978, Gilbert raised the banners in United Nations Plaza to commemorate that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. 

Baker assigned a specific meaning to each colour: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit. A year later the pink and turquoise stripes were dropped owing to a shortage of pink fabric at the time and legibility concerns, resulting in the six-colour rainbow flag most commonly used in the first decades of the 21st century.

In June of 1994, Gilbert achieved a world’s record when he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot 1969 in New York City. The banner measured 30 x 5,280 ft. and was carried by 5,000 people. The project was underwritten by Stadtlander’s Pharmacy.

In 2018 by non-binary American artist and designer Daniel Quasar (who uses xe/xyr pronouns) developed The Progress Pride flag. Based on the iconic rainbow flag from 1978, the redesign celebrates the diversity of the LGBTQ community and calls for a more inclusive society.

For Quasar, the light blue, pink and white stripes represent trans and non-binary individuals and the brown and black ones represent marginalised People of Colour (POC) communities. The black stripe has a double meaning as it is also intended for "those living with AIDS and the stigma and prejudice surrounding them, and those who have been lost to the disease".