Communities and organizations benefit greatly from diversity, fresh perspectives, and the practice of love and acceptance for all people. Pride Month was created as a way to celebrate gay and trans folx from all walks of life who have changed their communities for the better. This month, we’re taking a moment to highlight some of the extraordinary people in the LGBTQ+ community who have propelled society forward through their actions.
Renowned mathematician Alan Turing has rarely made it into history books, but his efforts as a code breaker were directly tied to the victory of Allied forces during World War II. He was privately consulted by Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchhill for his mathematical prowess and you can trace his work to modern day computers and artificial intelligence. However, after his relationship with another man was exposed, Turing was criminalized and forced to undergo chemical castration. He was immediately exiled from top-security clearance jobs and stripped of his title as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. With most of his greatest accomplishments marked as classified wartime information, Turing went unrecognized for his efforts and was demonized for his sexual orientation throughout most of his later years. It wasn’t until 2009 that a formal government apology was issued to Turing – almost half a century after his death by apparent suicide.
Marsha P. Johnson
The ‘P’ in Marsha P. Johnson stands for “Pay It No Mind”, which is what Johnson would say when asked about her gender identity. Largely recognized for her involvement in the historic 1969 clash at the Stonewall Inn, Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist and self-proclaimed “drag mother” to wayward LBGTQ+ youth for decades. After moving to New York to find herself, Johnson found her community on Christopher Street as a self-made drag queen. In 1992, police found Johnson’s body in the Hudson River and ruled her death a suicide, despite objections from close friends and the local community. Her case has since been reopened for investigation and Johnson is widely celebrated today for her historical role in the liberation of gay rights.
Bayard Rustin was best known for his role as chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and for successfully bringing Gandhi’s nonviolent protest techniques to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. From the start of his involvement with activism in the ‘40s, Rustin chose to live as an ‘out’ gay man. Despite the significant challenges that came with the decision, he believed that in order to truly fight prejudice, he needed to declare his own truth publicly. Rustin is celebrated in the LGBTQ+ community for his significant role as a gay man working towards ending racial segregation in the United States, along with his humanitarian work in other countries that spanned decades. Rustin died on a humanitarian mission to Haiti in 1987 and in 2017, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to American civil rights.
English composer, music director, and performer Angela Morley gained recognition for her radio station jingles in the 1950s before ultimately landing a prominent position with Warner Bros Studios in the ‘80s. Although she is often overlooked for the accomplishment, Morley was the first trans woman – first woman, in fact – to be nominated for an Academy Award for musical composition, before going on to win three Emmys. Morley underwent gender affirming surgery in 1972 with the support of her wife, Christine, who helped Morley work through gender dysphoria and successfully transition. They stayed happily married from 1970 until Morley’s passing in 2009.
There are so many remarkable individuals in the LGBTQ+ community you can learn about, such as astronaut Sally Ride, Josephine Baker, Albert Cashier, and more! Pride Month is a great time to brush up on some queer history and see how aspects of your own life have been elevated by the actions of marginalized individuals in the past.