“You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights”
BY ELLA GAUCI
Within history books, the LGBTQIA trailblazers you may see often have a few things in common. They’re often white… and they’re often men. Of course, the reality is pretty different. QITPOC have been carving out queer history since the beginning of time. They’ve fought tirelessly for LGBTQIA rights, even when people within the community were actively trying to stop them.
While this list could run on for pages and pages, here are five QITPOC trailblazers who changed the course of LGBTQIA history. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Gladys Bentley (1907-1960)
In 1930s Harlem, there was one name that was on everyone’s lips: Gladys Bentley. Performing in her signature top hat and tails, Gladys sang raunchy songs that got her shunned by mainstream media at the time. But Harlem went wild for her. She was unapologetically open about her sexuality, claiming that she had married a woman at the time.
She was a wealthy, successful Black queer woman who broke all the rules at a time when racism and homophobia were rampant. Gladys opened the door for future Black queer artists to have their moment in the limelight.
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Known for her infamous play A Raisin In The Sun, Lorraine Hansberry was the first African-American woman to have a show produced on Broadway. Her iconic play – which is still being put on and studied today – opened the eyes of many Americans to discrimination, racism, sexism and struggles that the Black community faced in America. She took the stage, a traditionally white space, and made it a vessel for Black people to share their stories.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
You can’t make a list of LGBTQIA trailblazers without mentioning the iconic Marsha P. Johnson. Throughout her life, Marsha was a vocal advocate for LGBTQIA rights and is credited as being one of the leading figures at the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. She was a beacon of hope for the civil rights community and never stopped advocating for homeless LGBTQIA youth or those affected by AIDS. It is nearly impossible to imagine the world we have today without Marsha.
Marielle Franco (1979-2018)
The Brazilian politician, sociologist, feminist, socialist and human rights activist Marielle Franco is still remembered today for her work for the LGBTQIA community in Brazil. She campaigned tirelessly for the rights of people who lived in the favelas and was an openly bisexual woman who advocated for LGBTQIA rights. She criticised police brutality and police militarisation in Brazil which ultimately led to her assassination in 2018. Her voice lives on still.
Taking us into the modern day, it’s hard to imagine a world without Lady Phyll. The award-winning activist co-founded UK Black Pride 18 years ago, creating a safe space for QITPOC people to celebrate their queerness. She is considered one of the UK’s most prominent lesbian activists. Lady Phyll is the future.
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