Inspired by Lady Phyll, let’s look back on “those giants who came before us”
BY DOMINIC BRAMLEY-CARR, IMAGE BY PAVEL DANILYUK VIA PEXELS
As our inspirational cover star for LGBT+ History Month, Lady Phyll said when we interviewed her, we progress because we can “stand on the shoulders of those giants that came before us”. Whilst we celebrate our history, it is incredibly important to remember and honour those who devoted their lives to fighting for LGBTQI rights, without whom we would not be where we are today. Even more so, we must shine the spotlight on those whose contributions were overlooked or minimised, namely LGBTQI women, especially those of colour. Here are some of the inspirational individuals who we must remember.
Sylvia Rivera was a drag queen, gay and transgender activist, and a pivotal figure in New York in the 1960s and 70s. She was one of the co-founders of the Gay Liberation Front following the Stonewall Riots (where she was said to have thrown the second Molotov cocktail), and alongside close friend Marsha P. Johnson, she started STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and STAR House. She fought tirelessly for marginalised groups within the LGBTQI community, being herself a trans person of colour who had been excluded from the community she fought for. She passed away from liver cancer in 2002, but the Sylvia Rivera Law Project continues her legacy to this day.
Marsha P. Johnson
In addition to founding STAR and STAR House alongside Sylvia Rivera, Marsha was instrumental in the Stonewall Riots and what followed. She was referred to as “the Queen Mother”, both because of her performances as a drag queen and her caring for those who came into STAR House as her children. Her death in 1992 was ruled a suicide, something much debated by those who knew her, and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute exists to “protect and defend the human rights of black transgender people… founded both as a response to the murders of black trans women and women of colour”.
Jackie Forster was a famous actress, TV and news presenter and lesbian rights activist in the UK in the 1970s. After coming out publicly in 1969, she founded the organisation Sappho in 1972 alongside her partner Barbara Mary Todd, creating a social space for queer women as well as launching and editing a magazine which the group shared at their meetings and certain lesbian venues. She was also a part of The Campaign For Homosexual Equality and the Lesbian Archive And Information Centre Management Committee.
Known as the mother of the transgender Latinx community in Queens, Lorena Borjas suffered from drug addiction, and she was abused and trafficked in the 1990s. After escaping from her abuser, she devoted her life to caring for transgender people in Queens, especially sex workers, walking around at night to distribute food and condoms. She also advocated for young transgender immigrants, fighting against their incarceration and, alongside Chase Strangio, founding the Lorena Borjas Community Fund to provide financial aid to those imprisoned. She tragically passed away in March 2020 from Covid-19.
FannyAnn Eddy was an extremely courageous Sierra Leonean gay and lesbian rights activist and founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association. She campaigned against the treatment of homosexual and transgender people in Sierra Leone and the lack of protection afforded to them by the law, even attending the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to speak on the treatment of the LGBTQI community and appeal for change. She was murdered in her own office five months later but her work resounds today.
A famous poet and feminist dedicated to using her creative skill to create activist poetry, Audre Lorde passionately fought against homophobia, sexism and racism through her work. She described herself as a “warrior”, a term apt for her engagement as an activist. The Audre Lorde Project lives on in her memory, providing a hub of community for LGBTQI people of colour in New York.
In 1973, Nancy Cardenas was the first lesbian to come out on live television in Mexico, which reflects her role as a trailblazer. She was a well-known actress and playwright, with much of her work being overtly lesbian alongside her adaptations of many famous lesbian works for Mexican audiences. She played a significant role in shifting attitudes towards homosexuality in Mexico and was at the forefront of the Mexican gay movement.
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