LGBTQ trailblazing women from the history books you should know

These women helped create a better world than the one they found

LGBTQ history, like history more generally, has a tendency to overrepresent the male heroes of the movement. Female members of the LGBTQ community are often overlooked, and during this Women’s History Month, qnotes wanted not only to highlight some local leading ladies currently doing important work in the community, but also spotlight heroines from the history books.

Here are six, of too numerous to count, badass women who helped shape the world into a more accepting and progressive place.

Edythe Eyde (aka Lisa Ben)

Edythe Eyde (aka Lisa Ben).
Courtesy of ONE Archives
at the University of
Southern California Libraries

Edythe Eyde, who went by the pen and performance name Lisa Ben (an acronym of “lesbian”), created the first gay magazine in the United States. While working as a secretary and being told to look busy at all times by her boss, Eyde decided to use her time to create something she had longed to see: a magazine for the community.

Eyde hand published the small run of her publication, called Vice Versa, and passed them out, in spite of restrictive laws at the time that deemed such content obscene. While there were only nine issues in total, published during 1947 and 1948, the magazine set a precedent for queer media to follow.

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Eyde passed away in 2015, at the age of 94. To read all nine issues, and learn more about Eyde, go to goqnotes.com/54559.

Barbara Gittings

Barbara Gittings.
Photo Credit: Kay Tobin Lahusen.
CC 2.0 License

Barbara Gittings was an early LGBTQ activist. She organized the New York chapter of the lesbian social and civil rights group the Daughters of Bilitis from 1958 to 1963, edited the group’s magazine, The Ladder, from 1963 to 1966, and was a driving force in the 1960s during the first pickets to bring attention to the ban on employment of gay people by the U.S. government.

Gittings also protested to get the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying being gay as a mental illness.

Additionally, she joined the gay group in the American Library Association, the first gay caucus in a professional association, becoming its coordinator in 1971. Gittings passed away in 2007, at the age of 74.

Mable Hampton

Mabel Hampton.
Photo Credit: Lesbian Herstory Archives

Mable Hampton was a lesbian activist, a philanthropist and a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. Hampton was born in Winston-Salem, N.C. and was raised in New York City and New Jersey. She danced in productions for Harlem Renaissance notables like Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

She marched in the first National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in 1979 and can be seen in the films “Silent Pioneers” and “Before Stonewall.”

“I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people,” she told the crowd at the New York City Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade in 1984. “I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.”

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Hampton passed away at 86, in 1989.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson. Photo Credit: Netflix

Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist and performer who was a key figure in the early demonstrations for LGBTQ rights in New York City. Johnson also helped her fellow transgender activist and close friend Sylvia Rivera found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), to help transgender individuals escape homelessness.

Johnson also modeled for Andy Warhol and was an active member of ACT UP, protesting against the inaction of the government during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Johnson died under mysterious circumstances in 1992, at the age of 46. 

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde.
Photo Credit: K. Kendall,
CC 2.0 License

Audre Lorde was a prominent feminist, activist and librarian, who pushed the ideas of intersectionality, well before the birth of the term, illustrating that marginalized groups are facing a shared oppressor.

“From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sizes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression,” she wrote in the essay “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.”

Lorde passed away in 1992, at the age of 58. She penned dozens of poems and essays, and her quotable words still show up in many places today, such as the famous observation that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera. Public Domain

Sylvia Rivera was another key LGBTQ rights activist in New York City during the early days of demonstrations and protests, including at the Stonewall Uprising.

Rivera, who as stated above co-founded STAR, was a vocal supporter of marginalized and disenfranchised people, born in part from her own experiences with homelessness. While she drifted from advocacy work for a time, she resumed those activities toward the end of her life.

Rivera died in 2002, at the age of 50.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.