Pride. The kickass famous LGBTQ+ icons through history

A black and white image of a LGBTQ Pride parade, with people celebrating New York Pride Parade, 1989, 20th anniversary of Stonewall, photograph by Joseph T. Barna The New York Pride Parade, 1989, 20th anniversary of Stonewall, photograph by Joseph T. Barna

As we celebrate Pride Month, Aiden Winn tracks some historical, influential LGBTQ+ icons and trailblazers

To celebrate the month of June, we’re brushing up on our LGBTQ+ history with seven of the most influential icons of the community. We’ve got a long old history of hard-fought fights and iconic individuals, so why not show some, er, pride?! But who are the most influential and famous LGBTQ+ icons through history? 

We’ve tracked some extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, from the 1700s to the present day.  In no particular order…

Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P Johnson - LGBTQ+ icon

Marsha P Johnson (1945-1992)

As one of the most well-known names on this list, Marsha P Johnson was a self-identified drag queen and rights activist. She was a proud advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and vital to the Stonewall riots of 1969. 

The Stonewall riots began what we know as Pride today, a protest and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. Johnson was essential in the formation of Pride – some even say she threw the first brick. 

The ‘first brick’ story has since been debunked, but that doesn’t make Johnson’s involvement and continued activism any less amazing. 

Beyond Stonewall, Johnson was a vocal activist, forming multiple organisations to support fellow members of the LGBTQ community. She protested for the rights of gay and transgender people, as well as supporting those affected by the AIDS crisis.  

Whether she threw the first brick or not, Marsha P Johnson will always remain one of the most influential icons of LGBTQ+ history. 

Alan Turing

Alan Turing headshot, black and white

Alan Turing (1912-1954) at Princeton University, 1936

Alan Turing is among the most well-known LGBTQ+ figures, and for good reason. As a World War Two computer scientist, Turing cracked the German cipher in an essential breakthrough for the war effort. He was also the source behind many other scientific breakthroughs, such as the Turing machine, which solves abstract mathematical conundrums. 

Sadly, despite Turing’s crucial work, he was still prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality, undergoing outdated medical treatment to both ‘cure’ and punish him. He died just two years later. Whether this was by suicide or whethr he was poisoning remains a mystery. 

Turning’s death is truly a tragedy, but his legacy lives on in countless memorials, from buildings, to awards, to computer programs and more. As a truly influential figure of LGBTQ+ history, Turing is also memorialised in the 2013 Alan Turing law. This law pardoned him and many of their crime of homosexuality. Homosexuality is no longer a crime in the UK today, and Turing is one of many to thank for that. 

Anne Lister

Anne Lister - image shows a painted portrait - Anne Lister famous LGBTQ+ icons in history article on Silver Magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

Anne Lister (1791-1840)

Anne Lister was born in Yorkshire in 1791, and grew up to be a landowner, a lesbian, and an all-round awesome icon in our history. 

Lister was a hot topic of conversation back in day for her masculine gender presentation, and her ‘masculine’ position as a landowner. Both were very uncommon for women at the time, making her stand out against the status quo. 

She is best known today from Gentleman Jack, a TV show based on her diary entries and letters to partner Ann Walker. Same-sex marriage was illegal at the time, but that didn’t stop the pair from deciding they were married anyway. That’s an incredible level of confidence you just have to respect. 

Clearly Lister was no sheep, no matter the stares or insults she faced. Gentleman Jack even names itself after a common insult for Lister, a modern day slap in the face to those who mocked her. Needless to say, she’s an absolute icon of LGBTQ+ history.

Harvey Milk

Image shows black and white portrait shot of Harvey Milk - famous LGBTQ+ icons in history article on Silver Magazine

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) at Gay Pride, San Jose 1978

Harvey Milk, born in 1930, was the first openly gay US official. He was elected to public office in California following a proud history of gay rights activism. 

Milk was an outstanding figure of protest, with intense and brilliant quotes such as, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” He was tragically killed in this exact way. Just a year after entering office, he was assassinated by a fellow American politician. 

His short time in office didn’t stop Milk from fighting for essential changes to US laws. He strived for the protection of LGBTQ+ Americans, sponsoring a bill which banned sexuality-based discrimination in housing and employment. This bill passed, marking an incredible milestone for LGBTQ+ rights in America. 

He’s celebrated today with the 2008 film Milk, based on his incredible life as an activist, politician, and influential LGBTQ+ icon. Though his political career was cut short, his contributions to LGBTQ+ history were essential in the fight for change. 

Another article you may like: What your transgender child wishes they could tell you 

April Ashley

April Ashley

April Ashley (1935-2021)

Born in 1935, April Ashley was one of the first people to undergo gender-affirming surgery in the UK. As a transgender rights activist, Ashley was prominent in the fight for equality. Even her own divorce case was used for positive legal change to benefit the transgender community. 

In the 1960s, her husband requested an annulment on the grounds that Ashley was not legally a woman. This atrocious reasoning was then approved, with their annulment being granted in 1970. All because Ashley’s legal gender was stuck as male with no way to change it. 

Even though Ashley lost the case, her story was still used in 2004 to help pass the Gender Recognition Act. Through this, she was finally allowed to change to her legal gender to female after over 60 years. 

As a vocal transgender activist, and key figure in the fight for gender-affirming laws, April Ashley continues to be remembered as an incredibly influential figure in LGBTQ+ history. 

Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943)

Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe Hall (known by her penname John) was an English poet and author born in the late 19th Century. She is best known for her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, a novel that truly cements her legacy as an icon of LGBTQ+ history. 

The novel depicts a lesbian relationship – still very much taboo for the time – and ends with the extraordinary line, “Give us also the right to our existence.”  

Unsurprisingly, such an iconic work was banned for its “scandalous” content, but that didn’t stop Radclyffe Hall’s influence from spreading far and wide. Especially among those who needed it most. 

Radclyffe Hall’s work became symbolic of those stuck in the closet (to use a more modern term). It represented LGBTQ+ people unable to represent themselves in a world where self-expression remained a crime. Having offered a voice for those who needed it most, Radclyffe Hall deserves to be celebrated as a brilliantly influential LGBTQ+ icon. 

Chevalier d’Eon

The Chevalier D'Eon

The Chevalier D’Eon (1728 -1810) from the London Magazine 1777, British Cartoon Prints Collection

Born in 1728, Chevalier d’Eon was one of the first transgender and gender non-conforming people in modern European history. They were a French diplomat, soldier and spy as part of a secret organisation under King Louie XV. An incredibly cool figure for our queer history tour. 

They presented as both masculine and feminine in their lifetime until 1777. That year, the king officially recognised d’Eon as a woman, so long as they presented as feminine for the rest of their life. A pretty bizarre deal for gender recognition by today’s standards. But it did come with a free wardrobe courtesy of the king himself. And d’Eon got to keep their incredible undercover life.  

D’Eon is known by many for their fencing prowess. Including defeating a French soldier in one particularly influential duel while presenting as a woman. Their legacy has been celebrated by many well-known figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, for their incomparable contributions to both women’s rights and transgender rights. 

As a remarkable soldier, spy, and one of the first to legally transition, d’Eon is definitely an LGBTQ+ icon to be proud of.

Lady Phyll

Phyll Opoku Gyimah

Phyll Opoku Gyimah (1974 – )

Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, is a political activist, campaigning for both LGBTQ+ rights and anti-racism. For anyone noticing the use of present tense there, you read right. Lady Phyll remains an influential rights activist to this day, still going strong in her co-founded charity and event UK Black Pride. 

UK Black Pride was formed in the hopes of uniting and celebrating LGBTQ+ people of colour, promoting unity and advocating for anti-racism within and towards the community. Self-described as both a party and a protest, its contribution to LGBTQ+ history is essential, fighting for a more inclusive LGBTQ+ community. 

Lady Phyll will undeniably go down in history as an influential icon of the LGBTQ+ community. And she continues to be politically active today, acting as Chief Executive of her own charity. Her influential story is far from over, and so is the fight for change. 

 

The future of Pride 

We can learn a lot from the influential LGBTQ+ icons of the past. What unites us all is not our struggles, but instead the strength of our community. It is our united fight for a better future that makes Pride what it is today.  

And it’s not over yet. We still have a long way to go in our fight for equality. 

To get involved, consider checking out the official Stonewall website for more information on events, charities and protests.  

Read all about it

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About Aiden Winn
Aiden is an editorial and production junior at Title Media whilst also studying for their English master’s degree. He’s constantly looking for opportunities to have fun and get creative, whether it be art, baking, storytelling… you name it!

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