Take a look at DIVA’s LGBTQI heroes for #LGBTHM21
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS
Happy LGBT History Month! Time to break out the rainbow bunting for a dazzling start to the queer calendar as we celebrate LGBTQI lives and culture in order to challenge prejudice and build equality. Every February here in the UK is a time to celebrate the contributions made by the LGTBQI people who paved the way for us today.
LGBT History Month was initiated in the UK by Sue Sanders, Elly Barnes and Schools OUT UK, and first took place in February 2005. We’ve come a long way since then, with more people free to come out and embrace their LGBTQI identities than ever before. But it’s important to reflect on what we’ve achieved, how far we’ve come and what we have left to learn.
To celebrate 2021 style, some of our staff members and friends of DIVA have shared the LGBTQI heroes who inspire them the most. We’ll be updating this list throughout the whole of LGBT History month, so be sure to check back in to find out about some more icons and trailblazers!
“I’m going for the obvious; Sappho. The prolific poet from Lesbos inspired the Ancient Greek poets and philosophers and some of whose work miraculously survived in fragments. Her life and work are extraordinary testaments to love and possibility.”
“Brenda Fassie was an iconic south African afro pop star. She was gender-fluid and unapologetic about who she was – even though South Africa wasn’t ready for her, she still did her thing and for a young girl like me, representations meant everything. We had never had that before and even though she was demonised for having a girlfriend, I am so glad that in her lifetime she followed her spirit and wasn’t afraid to let the world know who she is.”
“Showbiz legend Tallulah Bankhead was both fabulous and fearless. She stood up for racial equality and was outspoken about her bisexuality at a time when both topics were taboo. The “ambisextrous” actor had romances with icons including Billie Holiday, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. (That’s my dream dinner party guest list, right there.) Most of all, Tallulah was just plain hilarious, calling everyone “dah-ling” and cartwheeling into parties with no knickers on. She was an expert at the epic one-liner. Case in point: “My father warned me about men and booze, but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine.””
“Sally Ride is my LGBTQI hero from history. Why? Because she was out of this world. Not only did Sally shatter the glass ceiling, she kept going, and in 1983 proved the sky is anything but the limit when she became the third woman – and only known lesbian – in space. Back on earth, Sally continued to inspire, with the Sally Ride Science educational program. She also penned six science books for children with her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Sally died in 2012, but her legend lives on, and the trailblazing astronaut is immortalised in everything from postage stamps to her own Barbie doll, as well as in the lyrics of Janelle Monáe.”
“There are so many amazing women who have paved the way for me to be me, but my current favourite LGBTQI hero from history is Radclyffe Hall. Hall didn’t care how uncomfortable she made people. Although Well of Loneliness was the best ‘my first lesbian book’ to read at 13, it remains a classic. And her tailoring was sharp.”
Mandu Reid, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party
“Audre Lorde died in 1992 well before my feminist consciousness was born. I turned 40 this year and I’m still discovering and drawing strength and inspiration from the story of her life and her incredible body of work. She described herself as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” – I would add visionary, pioneer, and feminist sage to that list. She dedicated her life and used her writing to challenge racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia. She would often challenge audiences and readers by saying “I am doing my work, and I’ve come to ask… if you are doing yours?”. This stirring provocation about the responsibility we all have to tackle injustice and prejudice where we find it, even in ourselves, is as poignant today (perhaps even more so) as it was in her lifetime.”
“My LGBTQI hero is Marsha P Johnson. As an activist she led on tackling many discriminatory issues with power and grace, particularly for the TRANS & GNC community. The ‘P’ standing for “Pay it no mind” are words of strength she used to defend against the inequalities on Gender Identity, that the Trans & GNC community experienced then (and still do now). She is a reminder to us all to continue to rise up against discrimination and to always be yourself, something I promote in my work as an LGBTQI inclusion training specialist and as an influencer. Plus, who could resist her gorgeous smile!”
“Anne Lister is our LGBTQI historical hero! “I am not made like any other I have seen. I dare believe myself to be different from any others who exist.” To have the courage and self-assurance to live and love as she did, in a time when she genuinely suspected she was the only lesbian on Earth, is so inspiring and bad-ass! Not only a pioneer for gay women, she was also the first woman to climb Mount Perido and the first person of any gender to ascend Vignemale, both in the Pyrenees. What a total legend! We just wish she could see how incredible the LGBTQI community is today!”
“As I was growing up, I thought there was no-one else like me, fortunately I was very wrong. As an eight or nine-year-old I remember asking my mum if I could have my hair cut just like Billie Jean King. I had no idea then just what a courageous woman she was and continues to be. Her influence has been far reaching. Her unwillingness to ‘never not be herself’ and fight for what’s right, makes her an incredible beacon. She is a global ambassador for equality. She cut through all the BS and has universal respect. She is easily my role model.”
“My hero is Dana International. When she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, I was blown away. This was the first time I’d ever seen a trans woman in mainstream culture presented in a positive way – she was stunning, confident and totally kicking ass out there on stage. I was starstruck, this was a game changing moment for me and she opened my eyes to possibility!”
“My LGBTQI shero from herstory is the formidable Audre Lourde. Simply because she taught me the mantra “women are powerful and dangerous”. That sentiment has always quietly encouraged me to share any power I have and is a constant reminder that I can be choose to be fearless rather than afraid.”
“Stormé DeLaverie was a proud butch lesbian and icon of the Gay Liberation movement whose violent arrest is widely thought to have been the spark that ignited the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. A lifelong gay rights activist, DeLaverie was unashamedly proud of her identity and fiercely protective of her community, tirelessly campaigning for LGBTQI rights and equality. As a drag performer she was also a total fashion inspiration, frequently photographed looking androgynously handsome in a three-piece suit. Total legend!”
“When I first came out there were very few visible lesbian role models and nowhere to go. Jackie Foster was a role model who started a group called Sappho and ran a lesbian magazine called Sappho (1972/81). I used to meet at the Sappho Arms in Notting Hill. There was nothing else and it inspired me to be the publisher I am today because I saw first hand what it meant to people to have a lesbian magazine.”
“The great Billie Jean King is one of my LGBTQI icons. Winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, she starting campaigning for equal pay and equal rights for female athletes back in the 1960s and 70s. She not only changed the face of tennis, she has been an advocate for social justice and LGBTQI rights ever since. I’ve interviewed her only once in my career, and one of my biggest regrets is that there was no time for us to have a private conversation before or after the interview – I would have loved to just say ‘thank you’.”
Who is your LGBTQI hero this year? Let us know over on Twitter @DIVAmagazine.
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