LGBTQ ROLE MODELS AND ALLIES
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Harvey Milk (1930 – 1978) was an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California in 1977. He was responsible for passing a gay rights ordinance that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in the city of San Francisco. He also passionately encouraged gay people to “come out of the closet” in order to increase visibility and end discrimination and homophobic violence. After eleven months in office, Milk was assassinated and became a martyr for gay rights.
Dan Choi was an infantry officer in the US Army who served in combat in the Iraq war. He came out on The Rachel Maddow Show in 2009, and was subsequently discharged from the military. Since then, he has worked diligently to challenge the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was a brilliant lesbian feminist essayist, novelist and leading commentator on modern culture. Her books have been translated into 26 languages. She was also president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.
Sylvia Rivera was an American transgender activist of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation front and the Gay Activists Alliance. She also reportedly “threw the first heel” at Stonewall1969, when the LGBT community decided to fight back against police brutality. Rivera and many other trans and gender non-conforming people that night were “guilty” of having “gender inappropriate” clothing, which was the excuse the police used violently attack them. The Stonewall riot catapulted the modern LGBT movement. She fought tirelessly for trans issues for the remainder of her life and despite being marginalized by a generally transphobic gay community, refused to let trans people and drag culture be marginalized by the white gay right agenda.
Chavela Vargas (born 1919) is a Costa Rican born singer who grew up in Mexico. At 81 years old, she publicly declared that she was a lesbian. In her youth, she dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun and was known for her characteristic red jorongo, which she still wears in performances. She is muse to figures such as filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, hailed for her haunting performances, and called “la voz áspera de la ternura”, the rough voice of tenderness.
Tegan and Sara is a pop/rock band formed by identical twin sisters Tegan Quin and Sara Quin. They are both lesbians and are outspoken advocates for LGBTQ rights. They have been out to the media and their fans since the beginning of their music career in 1999 and consistently draw attention to sexism and homophobia in the music industry and society.
James Randi is a scientific skeptic and atheist who became well known by publicly challenging makers of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Randi came out on a blog earlier this year, at the age of 81. View James Randi’s coming out here.
Le Tigre is an American electronic band with members: Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill and the riot grrrl movement)Johanna Fateman, Sadie Benning and JD Samson. Le Tigre is known for their political lyrics pertaining particularly to feminism and the LGBTQ community.
Leslie Feinberg (1949 – 2014) wass a transgender lesbian, activist and author, best known for the books “Stone Butch Blues,” which won a Lambda Literary book award, as well as “Transliberation.”
Kate Bornstein is a Jewish author, performance artist, gender theorist and MTF transsexual. Her most well-known books include “Gender Outlaw: Men, Women and the Rest of Us,” “My Gender Workbook,” and a wonderful book Hello “Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws”
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a black feminist lesbian writer poet and activist most famous for her beautiful autobiographical novel “ZAMI: a new spelling of my name” and “Sister Outsider,” an essential in lesbian feminist reading. Lorde drew much attention to the underlying racism in the feminism of the1960s -1970s, criticizing the focus on the experiences of white, middle-class women. She changed feminist thought forever by exposing the links between racism, sexism and homophobia.
Alan Ball is a director, screenwriter and producer who wrote the film American Beauty, and created the HBO series Six Feet Under and True Blood. In 2008 he made Out magazine’s annual list of the 100 most impressive gay men and women.
Angela Davis is an black feminist lesbian American political activist, former political prisoner, and professor. In 1969 she came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position at UCLA as a result of her social activism and membership in the communist party. in 1970 she was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list on false charges, which culminated in one of the most famous trials in American history. A massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign led to her acquittal in 1972. Harnessing the momentum of that campaign, she co-founded the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, and founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex.
Coretta Scott King (1927 – 2006) was an American author activist, civil rights leader and widow of Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. She was an ally to the LGBT rights movement, and called on the civil rights community to join the struggle against homophobia. During a 1998 speech in Chicago she said: “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood”, she stated. “This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.” She also outspokenly denounced bans on same sex marriage.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) likely the most brilliant and diversely talented human to have ever lived, and yes, a gay.
Marilyn Buck was a lesbian, anti-imperialist political prisoner who was targeted by COINTELPRO, particularly for her support of the Black Liberation Movement. She began doing anti-imperialist work in the 60s, supporting struggles fro social and economic justice worldwide. She was found guilty in participating in the 1979 prison break of Assata Shakur, and her involvement with the “Armed Resistance Unit” (an offshoot of the weather underground) and their bombing of the US senate building (an attack designed to inflict property damage only) and sentenced to a total of 80 years in prison. She was released on July 15, 2010 and died less than a month later from cancer.
Sir Ian McKellen is an Oscar-nominated actor, most famous for roles such as Gandalf in the LOTR films, and as Magneto in the XMEN films. McKellen came out in 1988 and is a co-founder of Stonewall, a LGB rights lobby group in the UK.
Margaret Cho is an American comedienne, actress, author, and recording artist. Cho is a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights and has won awards for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of women, the transgender community and the LGBTQ community. In 2000, GLAAD awarded her with a Golden Gate award and described her as an entertainer who, “as a pioneer, has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Katastrophe a.k.a. Rocco Kayiatos, is an American hip-hop rapper and producer. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he began competing in poetry slams in 1997. After winning the 1998 Youth Speaks poetry slam, he went on tour with Sister Spit’s Rambling Road Show tour. By age 19 Kayiatos had poems on four compilation cds. He is widely credited as the first openly transgender singer in the hip-hop genre and he often incorporates his being a transman in his work. He also co-founded the first magazine by and for transmen, Original Plumbing.
Stephen Fry is a British atheist actor, writer, journalist, comedian, and director. He played Oscar Wilde in the film, Wilde. He was involved openly in a 14 year relationship with his former partner, Daniel Cohen.
Cyndi Lauper is an American singer-songwriter. She achieved success in the mid-1980s with the release of the album ‘She’s So Unusual,’ and became the first female singer to have four top-five singles released from one album. She created the annual music tour The True Colors Tour, which benefits the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations that provide support to the LGBT community and to the straight friends and family who love them, including PFLAG.
Annie Leibowitz is a legendary portrait photographer who has photographed musicians, actors, and writers since for over 40 years. She has captured some of the most enduring images of our era. Leibovitz was in a relationship with writer Susan Sontag for over 12 years, before Sontag passed away in 2004.
Neil Patrick Harris is an openly gay actor who first found fame in the title role of the television show, Doogie Howser MD. He now stars in many film and television roles. He was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010. He and his partner, David Burtka, recently welcomed twins from a surrogate mother.
Rachel Maddow is television news host and political commentator. She hosts a nightly television show, The Rachel Maddow Show, on MSNBC. Maddow is the first openly gay anchor to be hired to host a prime-time news program in the United States.
Bayard Rustin was a gay civil rights activist and the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In his later life, he was an advocate for the gay and lesbian cause, testifying on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill. Rustin was quoted as saying, “Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy, if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, ‘What about gay people?’ Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged.”
Dan Savage is an openly gay author and journalist, most famous for his syndicated sex column, Savage Love. Savage recently started the It Gets Better Project, after a rash of gay teen suicides made national headlines. Savage and his husband, Terry, have one adopted son, and were married in 2005.
Jane Lynch is a openly gay comedian and actress, most well known for her roles in films like Best In Show and The 40 Year old Virgin, and on television shows such as Party Down and Glee, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. Lynch recently married her longtime partner, Dr.Lara Embry.
Lady Gaga is a pop star who has sold more than 15 million albums. In May 2010, Time magazine included her in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In June 2010, Forbes listed her fourth on its list of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential celebrities in the world. An outspoken advocate for gay rights, Lady Gaga most recently spoke at a rally in favor of repealing the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
James Baldwin was a gay novelist and civil rights activist. He was noted for his novels on sexual and personal identity, and for his essays on the civil-rights struggle in the United States.
Billie Jean King was a professional tennis player who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam Womens doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She famously defeated Bobby Riggs in a match referred to as “The Battle of the Sexes.” King publicly acknowledged her lesbianism in 1981, becoming the first female athlete to do so.
David Sedaris is a writer and comedian who has sold over 7 million copies of his autobiographical novels. Sedaris lives in France with his longtime partner, Hugh Hamrick.
Ellen Degeneres is a comedian and talk show host, who made history in 1997 by coming out in real life, and in character on her sitcom, Ellen. She hosts her own talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, for which she has won several Emmys. She is married to actress Portia de Rossi.
Maurice Sendak is a legendary writer and illustrator of children’s books. He is most well known for his classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak came out in a 2008 article in The New York Times, saying that he had lived with his partner, Eugene Glynn for 50 years before Glynn’s death in 2007.
Ian Harvie is an American stand-up comedian and transman. Harvie has toured comedy clubs and theaters around the world with Margaret Cho, produced and hosted “The Ian Harvie Show,” and performed in his one-man show Parts Sold Separately, which features humor about sex and gender, played the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival.
Wanda Sykes is an actress and comedian, who was called one of the 25 funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly. She and her wife have two children.
Ariel Schrag is a cartoonist and author who had her first series, Awkward, published while she was still in high school. She was a writer on The L Word, and now writes for the HBO series, How To Make it in America.
Lee Daniels is a film producer and director, most well-known for his recent Oscar-nominated film, Precious. Daniels and his partner, Billy Hopkins, lived in New York, where they raised two children before separating in 2009.
Rosie O’Donnell is is an American stand-up comedian, multiple Emmy Award winning talk show host, actor, magazine editor, celebrity blogger and LGBTQ activist. She is also a philanthropist and continues to do extensive charity work for LGBTQ and children’s organizations. She famously came out just before the end of The Rosie O’Donnell Show to call attention to gay adoption issues. O’Donnell is a foster mother and adoptive mother.
Alison Bechdel is the author of the legendary and long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which offers a hilarious and intimate look into lesbian life. In 2006, she published the critically acclaimed, full-length graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. Her nominal work Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, explores the constructs of sexuality, sex and gender and critically discusses the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Jacques Derrida, and, Michel Foucault. It was first published in 1990, selling over 100,000 copies internationally.
Rob Halford is best known as the lead vocalist for heavy metal band Judas Priest. He is nicknamed “Metal God” as a tribute to his influence on metal. In 1998, Halford came out as gay publicly on an interview with MTV News. MTV.com named Judas Priest the second most important band in heavy metal, second only to Black Sabbath.