Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated each June to recognize the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City, and has been formally recognized by multiple United States Presidents. The events at Stonewall, led by trans women of color activists, was a tipping point for what became known as the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. The Library of Congress shares more about the purpose of Pride Month:
"This month-long celebration demonstrates how LGBTQ Americans have strengthened our country, by using their talent and creativity to help create awareness and goodwill."
The KLS Community joins in this celebration of LGBTQ Americans, and below, we will share about resources that spotlight just a few LGBTQ leaders who have made an impact in the United States.
Barbara Gittings: Organizer and Political Activist
Barbara Gittings began advocating for gay rights in the late 1950s, including the formation of New York's chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil rights group in the U.S., in 1958. In the 1960s, Gittings organized some of the first public demonstrations pushing for gay and lesbian civil rights, including the annual demonstrations known as the "Annual Reminders" in front of Independence Hall each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969. Gittings and fellow organizers paused the Annual Reminders after 1969 in order to support the 1970 march marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations. This 1970 march is regarded as the first New York City Pride Parade.
Gittings and fellow activists spent years focusing on civil rights changes with the American Psychiatric Association, culminating in the 1973 removal of homosexuality from classification as a mental disorder. She was also instrumental in proliferating literature by gay and lesbian authors in U.S. libraries, volunteering with the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association and serving as their lead coordinator for 16 years. Barbara Gittings is remembered as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement we know today due to her decades of civil rights advocacy work.
Bayard Rustin: Civil Rights Activist
Throughout the course of his life, Bayard Rustin was an African American leader in social movements advocating for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. The 1941 March on Washington Movement was co-organized by Rustin and other activists to push for eliminating racism in employment. Rustin also organized Freedom Rides in support of Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violent approaches to demonstrations.
A gay man, Rustin became a public advocate for gay rights in the 1980s despite criticism over his sexuality. He worked to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis to the NAACP and spent his life devoted to the struggle for justice for many underrepresented groups. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 20, 2013.
Edie Windsor: LGBTQ Marriage Rights Advocate
In 2013, Edie Windsor's landmark Supreme Court victory over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) laid the groundwork for marriage equality in the U.S. Windsor broke multiple boundaries throughout her lifetime. Starting in 1956, Windsor began her two-decade long career working with computers, and by 1958, she joined IBM. After winning a scholarship from IBM for PhD. Scholarship, she was honored in 1987 by the National Computing Conference as a Pioneer in Operating systems.
Engaged to her partner for 42 years, Windsor married Dr. Thea Spyer on May 22, 2007. Prior to the pivotal court case ruling in 2013, Windsor and Spyer had their marriage recognized by New York in 2008, and Spyer died shortly thereafter in 2009. Dr. Spyer left her entire estate to Windsor, and when Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, Section 3 of DOMA barred her from doing so. Following this, Windsor sued the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. District Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional, a ruling which was later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The 2009 documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement commemorates Windsor’s 42-year long engagement and eventual marriage to Dr. Thea Spyer. She traveled in the U.S. and in Europe with the documentary, using the opportunity to advocate for LGBTQ issues and marriage equality.
Harvey Milk: Bay Area LGBTQ Rights Leader
One of the most well-known Bay Area LGBTQ leaders in the movement for LGBTQ civil rights, Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. From the Harvey Milk Foundation's official biography:
"Harvey Milk, was a visionary civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk’s unprecedented loud and unapologetic proclamation of his authenticity as an openly gay candidate for public office, and his subsequent election gave never before experienced hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people everywhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination."
Read more here to learn about the life of impact and legacy Harvey Milk left behind.
From Brightly Storytime: "Ms. Linda reads a moving and empowering true story for young readers that traces the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’s world. Get the book here: http://bit.ly/2Xq4z9z "
Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera: Leaders of the NYC Stonewall Riots
Marsha P. Johnson was an iconic Black activist in the early movement for LGBTQIA+ civil rights in the United States. After experiencing a difficult childhood due to anti-LGBTQIA+ ideologies, Marsha moved to New York City's West Village in 1967 to forge a new life safe from discriminatory violence. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, Marsha was present at the Stonewall Inn and is said to have thrown the first brick, causing the historic Stonewall Inn Riots that launched the modern LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement in the United States.
After the Stonewall Inn Riots, Marsha became friends with fellow LGBTQIA+ activist of color Sylvia Rivera. Together, they co-founded the organization that came to be known as STAR, a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Johnson dedicated her work to AIDS activism to increase awareness about the crisis and advocate for more affordable AIDS medication.
In the 1980s, Johnson became a tireless AIDS activist, demonstrating with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) to help build awareness and lower the prices of AIDS medication.
Sylvia Rivera was a remarkable LGBTQIA+ rights activist born to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents in 1951. Rivera was a regular patron at the now-famous Stonewall Inn, and she was present during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Activist work of Rivera's included co-founding STAR, a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City.
Sylvia was a fierce advocate for those on the margins of the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement following the Stonewall Riots. Her organizing work included the fight against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and Sylvia was particularly focused on the rights of people of color, trans people, and those experiencing poverty.
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