LGBT History Month: The Incredible Queer Women Who Shaped the World

You may not find them in a textbook, but you should definitely get to know the names of these awesome women.

Can you remember the first time you were taught about an inspiring LGBT woman in history class?

Until I ‘came out’ in my early twenties and did my own research, I hadn’t once opened a textbook or gone into school and learnt about a pioneering queer woman who defined her time. There are many courageous, innovative and downright badass LGBT women who shaped history in incredible ways, but due to cultural erasure you may not have heard about them, read their stories, or known about their identity.

With same-sex marriage being passed in many countries and queer women being steadily more included in the media, it’s becoming safer and more empowering to be LGBT than ever before. But in order to progress and fight for acceptance in the present, we need to be aware of who paved our way in the past.

If you’re looking to be inspired by historical women this LGBT History Month, here are nine amazing lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual and transgender women you definitely need to know about.

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Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was one of the first women to throw a bottle at the Stonewall Inn raid in 1969.

Rivera suffered a tragic childhood, orphaned by three years old and abandoned at eleven to live on the streets and work as a prostitute. She was taken in by a local group of drag queens and went on to become a legendary transgender activist, and a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. There’s even a street sign in New York City dedicated to her!

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Christine Jorgensen

In 1952, Christine Jorgensen was thought to be the first trans woman in the United States to have sexual reassignment surgery. After her surgery she quickly became a celebrity, working as an actress, singer and transgender activist, touring the country giving talks.

Lili Elbe and Dora Richter should also be mentioned as among the first to receive pioneering surgeries.

Frida Kahlo

Considered one of the world’s greatest painters, Frida Kahlo has inspired generations of female artists and queer women. Kahlo openly had affairs with both men and women, including a rumoured romance with American painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

Barbara Gittings

“I’ve had the satisfaction of working with other gay people all across the country to get the bigots off our backs, to oil the closet door hinges, to change prejudiced hearts and minds…”

Barbara Gittings is widely thought of as the ‘mother’ of the LGBT civil rights movement, having accomplished huge milestones for the community before her death in 2007.

Her achievements include, among others: editing the first national lesbian magazine The Ladder, holding the first public demonstrations for LGBT equality, marching in the first New York City Pride Parade, and being part of the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness.

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Teresa Millward & Helen Brearley

Teresa Millward and Helen Brearley were among the first couples to tie the knot after same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013. Their marriage symbolises a new era for acceptance of LGBT people in Britain and worldwide.

Sally Ride

The first American woman to travel into space in 1983, Sally Ride lived a very private life. It was discovered after her death in 2012 that she had been with a female partner for 27 years, having previously been married to NASA astronaut Steve Hawley. Ride is the first known LGBT astronaut.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a black writer, feminist, lesbian, poet and civil rights activist, who embraced and defended every aspect of her identity fiercely.

Before her death in 1992, she created many works of literature expressing her outrage at social injustices she encountered during her life, which continues to inspire queer women to this day. 

Lorde once wrote:

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves.”
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Lorraine Hansberry

The writer of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. She is known for her incredible literary talent and subversive politics.

Hansberry advocated for lesbian and gay rights throughout her life, and was widely believed to be LGBT herself, due to secret writings and personal letters found after her death in 1965.  

Anne Lister

Anne Lister is thought of as the ‘first modern lesbian’; the wealthy Yorkshire landowner kept pretty graphic diaries of about a million words each describing her romantic and sexual relationships, and lived openly as a lesbian.

One of her journals states: “I love and only love the fairer sex… my heart revolts from any love but theirs.” (29 October 1820)


LGBT History Month runs throughout February in the UK. This year’s theme is Citizenship, PSHE and Law.

By Emily Chudy