A Pride Love Note
It’s LGBTQIA2S+ Pride Month — a time to celebrate love, but also to champion equality and LGBTQIA2S+ rights.
We’ve come a long way from the unspeakably dark days when being gay was considered a crime, to now celebrating legally recognized gay marriage (and all the stages in-between). These freedoms have been hard-won by those whose lives were often not easy. Now, in many countries, people are free to join Pride marches, marry whomever they choose, and openly show their love. But that’s still not the case for LGBTQIA2S+ communities in every country, and even in countries where it is safe to march, there is still a long way to go before true equality is achieved.
Today we’re celebrating some inspiring activists, writers, athletes, politicians, and celebrities, who have helped the LGBTQIA2S+ movement arrive where it is today by fearlessly being who they are.
Harvey Milk, subject of the Oscar-winning film Milk, was the first openly gay politician to be elected in California. Milk was assassinated in 1978, but during his short tenure in office he pushed legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The bill passed with just one dissenting vote by Dan White, the city supervisor who would go on to shoot and kill Milk. In 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger designated May 22, Milk’s birthday, as a day of recognition for the late politician and activist.
Marsha P. Johnson is sometimes referred to as the “Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement.” She was a key figure of the 1960s gay rights movement in the US as an activist, drag performer, sex worker, and model for Andy Warhol. She was black, queer, and trans — and fearlessly advocated for her rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community at a time when doing so put her safety in jeopardy. “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration,” she once said.
Sylvia Rivera was a Latina trans activist, who, together with Marsha P. Johnson, co- founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that provided housing and other services to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. Born in New York City, Sylvia turned to sex work after her mother died by suicide when Rivera was just 10 years old. Rivera lived a turbulent life, struggling with drug addiction and homelessness, but Rivera was always a vocal and, at times, forceful advocate for change. She was once arrested for attempting to climb through a window (in a dress and heels) into a room where the New York City Council was debating a gay rights bill.
Alice Nkom is a human rights lawyer and LGBTQ activist from Cameroon, where homosexuality is still criminalized. In a country where police officers still entrap members of the LGBTQ+ community, Nkom bravely fights for their rights. Though Nkom identifies as heterosexual, she has dedicated her work to fighting for Cameroon’s LGBTQ community. She and her colleagues are sometimes in danger because of the work they do, yet Nkom remains undeterred.
Arsham Parsi is a gay man who first began secretly working to support members of the LGBTQ community in his native Iran. He was forced to flee his country in 2005, where homosexual activity still remains illegal. Today, Parsi lives in exile in Canada, where he has founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, which supports and provides guidance to LGBTQ asylum seekers from the Middle East.
The Fab Five, a.k.a. the cast of Netflix’s reboot of the series, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are just as serious about making a difference in the world as they are about making it fabulous. The Fab Five is comprised of Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, and Antoni Porowski — all of whom speak openly on Queer Eye about their personal struggles and experiences with homophobia and discrimination. And the stars hope to use their newfound fame to empower LGBTQ communities.
Billie Jean King is a tennis champion who has been a longtime pioneer on and off the court, using her status as a prominent athlete to champion gender equality and LGBTQ visibility. In 1972 she was the first tennis player — and woman — to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year. After winning the US Open in that same year, she threatened to boycott the next year if men and women were not awarded the same prize money. Consequently, the tournament made the prize money the same for both sexes in 1973. Her career took a hit in 1981 after news leaked that she was in a secret relationship with another woman while she was married to a man. She argued with her managers and lawyers to hold a press conference so she could control the message about her sexuality. When she publicly confirmed that she was in a lesbian relationship, she became the first out LGBTQ athlete and lost all her endorsement deals, but paved the road for those who followed, including Martina Navratilova who lost none of her endorsement deals when she was outed just a few months later.
James Baldwin, who grew up in Harlem, published a groundbreaking novel called Giovanni's Room whose main character is a gay man. Throughout the rest of his writing career, Baldwin continued writing books and essays with LGBTQ and African American characters.
RuPaul got his start in the music industry in the '90s. At the same time, he appeared in a number of films as his drag persona. In 2009, he started a drag queen competition show titled RuPaul's Drag Race, and it quickly became a hit among the LGBTQ community. Throughout the years, the series gained momentum and has become a major hit for mainstream audiences.
Elliot Page is known for starring in the Oscar-winning film Juno and Netflix's The Umbrella Academy, and has recently come out as transgender. "I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive," the actor wrote in his coming out Twitter post.