By Diane Cervantes
In celebration of Pride Month we are highlighting some of the women throughout history who used their voices and influence to create a safer and more inclusive space for the queer community. Whether it was through activism or applying their creativity and talents to bring about more representation, these women stayed true to themselves and changed the status quo. They influenced how we view and live through our sexuality and identity.
Barbara Jordan – A congresswoman who was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate. Although never publicly acknowledging her sexual orientation, she was with her life partner, Nancy Earl, for 20 years. She fought for the rights of marginalized communities and her commitment them lives on after her death. The Barbara Jordan and Bayard Rustin coalition is a civil rights organization whose mission is “to build the political power of the Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community . . . in the Greater Los Angeles Area through grassroots organizing, political advocacy, public education and community empowerment.”
bell hooks – Renowned author, feminist and social activist, bell hooks, addresses race, gender, and class in her feminist theory work. As a writer and cultural critic, her contribution and works include addressing intersectionality and queerness. In her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, hooks suggests the need to “focus on individual attraction and choice.”
Marsha P. Johnson – A leader of the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson dedicated her life to activism and co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or S.T.A.R. (Later renamed to the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries.) In 2017, Netflix released the documentary, The Death and Life of Martha P. Johnson, which highlights her legacy, but also probes into the activist’s alleged murder that was ruled a suicide.
Dr. Juanita Diaz-Cotto – Currently a professor of sociology, women’s studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies (LACAS) at SUNY Binghamton. Dr. Diaz-Cotto is the co-founder of the Latina Lesbian History Project. She has focused on feminist and lesbian-feminist movements and the African Diaspora. She also edited a Latina-themed issue of the lesbian feminist publication “Sinister Wisdom” and published Chicana Lives and Criminal Justice: Voices from El Barrio in 2006. According to Dr. Diaz-Cotto, she strives to “help students bridge the gap between theory and practice inside and outside the classroom.”
Gloria Casarez – A civil rights leader and LGBTQ activist, Casarez was the first-ever director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs in Philadelphia. She was a founding member of the Philadelphia Dyke March. Following her death to a battle with cancer, Casarez was immortalized on a mural in her hometown of Philly.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy – Another leader of the Stonewall riots, Miss Major is currently serving for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. Continuing with her life-long activism, Gracy is working to assist transgender persons who are disproportionately incarcerated under a prison-industrial complex.
Frida Kahlo – The world-renowned Mexican artist and feminist icon was very much open about her sexuality, as she identified as bisexual. Despite her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera, Kahlo was not coy about her identity, which was a recurring theme in many of her paintings. Her art is celebrated and admired for its personal authenticity, despite what it might look like to others.
Laverne Cox – After gaining recognition from her role on “Orange Is the New Black,” Laverne Cox has been outspoken about transgender rights and representation. Most recently it was announced that she would be part of the creative team in a new documentary feature “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen.” According to Variety, the film is “focused on Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people and experiences over the last 100 years of film and television, and the impact of those stories on transgender lives and American culture.”
Janelle Monae – Singer and actress Janelle Monae has been very open in expressing her queerness and in an interview with Rolling Stone, opened up about identifying as pansexual. She Recently released an “emotion picture” to accompany her latest album Dirty Computer. Monae delves into a futuristic, somewhat dystopian world where she lives a non-conforming life, only to have her memories erased by a higher institution that sees her and other people as “dirty” and ready to be reprogrammed for being different. By incorporating this in her work, Monae intertwines her creativity with personal and social issues such as homophobia, classism, and misogynoir. In a 2010 interview, she mentions that this recurring futuristic theme of portraying herself as an android because, “[I chose] an android because the android to me represents ‘the other’ in our society,”. Dirty Computer film emphasizes on her sexuality and identity, as she now has to be “cleaned” for not falling under a strict spectrum of heterosexuality. She speaks her truth, while shedding light on the realities and discrimination many people have been oppressed under.