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10 Iconic Queer Women Throughout History

Mar 08, 2022

10 Iconic Queer Women Throughout History

The fight for queer rights is an ongoing and tenacious battle. Queer women have been trailblazers in the fight for liberation and have made immense strides in the community. Making even bigger strides in the community are queer women of color who are bringing a voice to marginalized groups and highlighting the intersectionality of being queer and a POC.

Many women at the forefront of these fights have been willing to put themselves in danger to advocate for themselves and the community as a whole. It’s admirable how they’ve made changes in the community and their work should be recognized.

Dive into the work of some of these inspiring women of color in the queer space.

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Gladys Bentley (1907-1960)

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Gladys Bentley is known as one of the best Black performers in the United States, and for good reason. She was breaking gender barriers during the Harlem Renaissance as an openly lesbian Black woman, in a time when both of those identities were heavily scrutinized. Popular for her double entendres and bold lyrics, she’s no stranger to radical self-expression. ‘Harlem’s most popular lesbian’, her music is still widely loved and well known today.

Bentley set the way for Black and queer performers to be comfortable expressing themselves radically through their art.

Stormè DaLaverie (1290-2014)

Source: makinggayhistory.com

Stormè DaLaverie is a self-identified butch, biracial lesbian born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She started performing from a young age with some of her earliest performances in the Ringling Brothers Circus and Drag King of Jewel Box Revue. Through these roles, she became comfortable with unapologetically expressing herself.

DeLaverie also held leadership positions in the Stonewall Veterans Association and worked as a volunteer street patrol worker, which earned her the nickname ‘guardian of lesbians in the village’. Her work also includes organizing fundraisers for women who suffered from domestic violence and their children.

She proclaims in her documentary that she “spent her whole life trying to help people survive”.

Ernestine Eckstein (1941-1992)

Source: Wikipedia

Ernestine Eckstein was a leader in the New York Chapter of Daughter of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. She was the only black woman present at early LGBTQ rights and “Annual Reminder” protests. 

Outside of being a leader in Daughters of Bilitis, she was also involved with Black Women Organized for Political Action, an organization dedicated to educating Black women on the voting process and political structures. 

Eckstein was vocal about viewing the fight for queer and civil rights as intrinsically linked and demonstrated her passion for both groups in her work.

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996)

Source: Wikipedia

Barbara Jordan made history as the first Black person elected to the Texas Senate in 1966 and continued to be the first woman and Black person elected to Congress in 1972. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments by Bill Clinton in 1994. Her work set the framework for many laws and acts for queer rights today.

Though Jordan never openly commented on her sexuality, she was with her life partner Nancy Earl for nearly thirty years.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (1940-present)

Source: Wikipedia

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, also known as Miss Major is a trailblazer in the trans rights space. As a black trans woman and activist, she’s centered a lot of her work around the adversity she faced being homeless and incarcerated.

She’s been vocal about the prison system and its contribution to the incarceration of trans individuals, particularly low-income. She joined the Transgender Variant and Intersex Justice Project as an executive director to lead group efforts advocating for incarcerated trans women.

At 79, she still lives in Little Rock and is very vocal in the queer activism scene.

Andrea Jenkins (1961-present)

Source: Wikipedia

Andrea Jenkins is the first openly transgender Black woman elected to public office in the United States, and one of two openly trans people to win a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in 2017. She also made history in January 2022 as the first trans official in the US to lead a city council. 

Through her role in the city council, she wants to continue fighting for a culture of accountability within the city’s police department. She’s also passionate about public safety issues including affordable housing, health care, and liveable wages.

Zahara Green

Zahara Green is the founder and executive director of TRANScending Barriers, a trans-led, trans-issue-focused non-profit organization whose mission is to empower the transgender community in Georgia through community organizing with leadership building, advocacy, and direct services so that lives can be changed and a community uplifted.

She was inspired to start TRANScending Barriers after spending five years incarcerated, mostly in solitary confinement. As a trans woman of color, she sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for violating her civil rights. Since the experience, this formed the backbone of her advocacy for trans women.

Green is also the board director and treasurer of Black and Pink, Inc., a prison abolitionist organization supporting LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners.

Cece McDonald

Source: Keppler Speakers

Cece McDonald is an activist and speaker in the queer community. She became a nationally recognized storyteller after surviving a white supremacist and transphobic attack. Her stories discuss the personal and political implications of being black and trans. These stories inspired conversations nationally around mass incarceration, sexuality, and violence.

McDonald is also one of the founders of the Black Excellence Collective and Black Excellence Tour. She’s also is the inspiration for the documentary released about her life Free Cece!.

Denice Frohman

Source: denicefrohman.com

Denice Frohman is a queer Latinx spoken word artist. Through her work, she discusses her experiences as a queer minority. Her work has been recognized through her winning the Creative Artist of the Year at the Hispanic Choice Awards and Women of the World Slam Poetry in 2013.

Jennicet Gutierez

Source: astraeafoundation.org

Jennicet Gutierez is a trans activist whose known for interrupting Obama at a White House event demanding an end to the deportation of LGBTQ immigrants. Her courage to speak up on this major issue sparked a conversation about this issue and brought more awareness.

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Alexandra hails from Boston, MA but is currently living in the DC Area. She's passionate about social justice, self-care, spirituality, and watching documentaries. She's no stranger to telling her story through writing and has written for a variety of freelance publications. You can find her on Instagram at @lexlexlexlexlex__.

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