This month we celebrate every human, especially those who are LGBTQ, and every person who has pushed for equality.
“I stand for honestly, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.” –Ellen DeGeneres
We are highlighting a handful of self-identifying women who have helped push forward sexual and gender equality. From top actresses to computer programmers, check out the stories of incredible women who’ve come out and paved the way.
Hollywood is usually seen as progressive and forward-thinking, but it hasn’t always been that way. In 1997, when Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay, she was terrified she’d lose her career.
The character Ellen was portraying on a show at that time also came out as gay, and the show lost ratings, ad placements, and was subsequently cancelled. But, Ellen’s courageous decision inspired many people across not just America, but the world. TIME Magazine featured her on one of their most iconic covers, with the caption “Yep, I’m Gay.”
Since then, Ellen’s talk show has won 59 Daytime Emmy Awards and 17 People’s Choice Awards. And, President Barack Obama awarded Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
“Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come.” –Ellen DeGeneres
Another incredible example is Laverne Cox, who gained notoriety for her performance in the Netflix show, “Orange Is The New Black.” She is also one of the most famous transgender actresses of this decade and regularly speaks out about transgender equality.
“We are not what other people say we are. We are who we know ourselves to be, and we are what we love. That’s okay.” –Laverne Cox
The political arena has a history of being ruled by men. But, more women are entering politics and are advocating for LGBTQ equality through their own lives or as allies.
Take Penny Wong, who was the first person in the Australian Labor Party to come out as gay while sitting in parliament AND she led the charge on marriage equality in Australia—kind of a big deal!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, is a well-known LGBTQ ally. She is most famous for her instrumental role in 2015: helping pass a ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states of America. But even before this, she officiated same-sex marriages and openly supports the LGBTQ community.
Historically, finding a safe social gathering place for LGBTQ communities was challenging. Typically, bars were used as these gathering points, but these spaces did not offer sanctuary from the ridicule and harassment of others. So, in secret, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin help found the Daughters of Bilits (DOB) in 1955. The DOB was a small social club for lesbians, which eventually grew to a political organization focused on lesbian rights.
The DOB was the first organization for lesbians that “educated gay women about their legal rights and increasing their social acceptance,” according to Britannica. And, DOB was one of the first groups to organize protests that sparked the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
We all know the infamous “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy which has been removed from the American military (finally). But, we also know that many LGBTQ people have served in our militaries—around the world—for centuries.
Like Roberta Cowell, a British World War II fighter pilot, prisoner of war, AND a Grand Prix racing driver. Apart from kicking butt, she was also born a man and was Britain’s first gender-reassignment surgery in 1948.
SCIENCE & ENGINEERING
We’ve written about women who made ground-breaking discoveries in science, but what about LGBTQ women?
“LGBT role models can be especially hard to find, since news stories about the latest scientific breakthrough rarely go into detail about the personal lives of the research team,” –MentalFloss.
There are many LGTBQ women who’ve led the charge in STEM. In fact, one of Taiwan’s greatest computer programmers, Audrey Tang, is transgender. She dropped out of high school and wrote a new programming language under the Pugs Project.
Or, Lynn Conway, a computer scientist who revolutionized the computer chip processing power, taught at MIT and worked for the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (whew!) Though she didn’t get credit for her work when she became openly transgender, she is now celebrated for her achievements.
Professional sports used to be male-centric, but there are many strong women, and LGBTQ women, who’ve been scoring points and crushing wins for decades.
Take, Billie Jean King, world-renowned tennis player and founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, who was “outed” as gay in 1981 when she and her partner split. She went on to push for equal pay in prize money for women and is one of the first openly-gay athletes. In fact, President Obama selected her as one of the U.S. delegates for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
“The responsibility to stand and possibly speak for those who don’t have a voice runs deep.” –Billie Jean King
That same year (1981) another incredible tennis champion and Czech native, Martina Navratilova, became the first world-famous athlete to come out voluntarily. According to Fortune Magazine, King told Navratilova, “Don’t get outed! Control your message.” Both King and Navratilova have spoken out countless times about gay rights and equality in athletics.
“If it feels right in your gut, this is who you are, this is what you do, this is what you feel, then don’t hide that. You just stick to it and the world will catch up.” –Martina Navratilova
These two brave women received death threats, lost endorsements, but carried on and paved the way for other athletes to speak their truths. Like Brittney Griner, a basketball player for the WNBA, came out as gay in 2013. According to the Washington Post, her coach had just urged her team “not to discuss their sexual orientation.”
Tying It All Together
There are a plethora of LGBTQ women and allies who’ve advocated for equality, pushed for progress, and changed their industries. But not all of them will receive fame and glory. Sometimes, the powerful example is seen in the way someone lives their life.
Take Ruth Ellis, of Detroit, Michigan. Buzzfeed recently featured her, as the “oldest-known, open lesbian.” She came out as gay in high school, received public shame, but continued to live her life. After finding her life-partner, Ceciline, they opened their home as a refuge for African-American gays and lesbians.
If you learn nothing else from this post, we hope you learn this: every woman, every person, is equal, worthy and deserves to be treated as such. Thank you to every human who lives, advocates and stands up for human rights.