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LGBTQ+ Unsung Heroes

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February 2019 welcomes LGBT History Month, with the theme of this year as ‘Peace, Activism and Reconciliation’. LGBT+ History Month has collected some of the unsung heroes who helped change LGBTQ+ history.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Ulrichs was a civil servant in Germany until he was forced to resign in 1854 because of his sexual identity. He became a civil activist and published 12 volumes of work about sexuality, including what is believed to the the first theory about homosexuality. 

Ulrichs argued that being gay was an ‘inborn condition’ and not a learned corruption, which was believed at the time. He also is thought to have been the first gay person to publicly sleep out about gay rights, in 1867 urging the German government to stop anti-homosexual laws. 

Barbara Gittings

 Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen

Barbara Gittings became the head of the New York daughters of Bilitis (DOB) - the USA’s first lesbian civil rights organisation. 

In the 1970s she was an important member of the American Psychiatric Association’s fight to get homosexuality removed from the list of psychiatric disorders.

Harvey Milk

In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person elected to public office, winning a seat on the San Francisco Council Board. 

Magnus Hirschfeld

Magnus Hirschfeld is believed to have coined the term ‘transvestism’. 

He started the world’s first gender identity clinic, whose patients include Einar Wegener - one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery and the protagonist of the movie ‘The Danish Girl’. 

Audre Lorde

 Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Audre Lorde published her first volume of poetry in 1968, covering everything from civil rights and sexuality, to her own battle with breast cancer. 

She inspired Barbara Smith to found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher by, for and about women of colour. 

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King and an openly gay activist. He was a key organiser of 2963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I have a dream’ speech. 

Christine Jorgensen

Born George Jorgensen in New York, Jorgensen underwent a year and a half of hormone treatment and gender re-assignment surgery in 1952 in Denmark. Returning to New York, she was poured over by the media and triggered national discussions about gender identity. 

In 1952, she was awarded Woman of the Year by the Scandinavian Society in New York. 


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