Hi there! My name is Alex and I'm currently undertaking my Creative Writing MA at the University of Lincoln. I'm a big fan of lots of streaming services, books, and am one of the hosts of the Fresher Take Podcast!…
There have been countless people in the LGBTQ+ community who have made a difference over the years. Whether it be helping with activism, education, research or safeguarding care, there are countless individuals whose decisions and experiences have allowed the LGBTQ+ community to survive, thrive, and receive the love and acceptance it deserves as time has gone on. In this article I’m going to talk about three individuals who have particularly stood out to me, when it has come to the differences they’ve made for the LGBTQ+ community.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was a gay, American activist for gay liberation, as well as being a self-identified drag queen. Known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, Marsha was a prominent figure in relation to the Stonewall uprising of 1969. This uprising consisted of riots in response to unfair police brutality against the gay community at the time, and are the reason we have modern Pride events and marches today.
Marsha was also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. She was also a well-known figure in New York City’s gay and art scene, having done some modelling for Andy Warhol in addition to performances on-stage with the troupe Hot Peaches.
From 1987 through 1992, Marsha was an incredibly passionate AIDS activist with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). This was an international political group whose purpose was to work continuously in order to out an end to end the AIDS pandemic. The group even now continues to work on improving the lives of those with AIDS through direct action, medical research, treatment, advocacy, as well as working to change legislation and public policies. Marsha’s actions in life, and their legacy, truly made the LGBTQ+ community what it is today.
Sir Ian McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen is best known for being a famous English actor, known especially for his roles as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men. He’s received nominations for an Academy Award, five Emmy nominations, and won a Tony Award along with two Critic’s Choice Awards. What is especially key here however, is that ever since he started acting, he always let his fellow actors know that he was gay – when it came to coming out publicly, he achieved this on BBC radio in 1998.
He has stated that though he loves acting, his true passion lies within advocating for the LGBT community. McKellen says, “I have many regrets about not having come out earlier, but one of them might be that I didn’t engage myself in politicking.” It’s clear Ian McKellen has made a deep impact on the LGBTQ+ community, as is particularly evidenced by him co-founding Stonewall (officially known as Stonewall Equality Limited) along with Lisa Power and Michael Cashman. They are an LGBT rights charity based in the UK, and it is the largest LGBT rights organisation in the whole of Europe.
Named after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, Stonewall was formed in 1989 by political activists and others, who had been initially campaigning against Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1988. Stonewall went on to diversify into policy development after Labour came to power in 1997. This then brought on a period which saw many successful campaigns which include: repealing Section 28, ending the ban on LGBT people in the armed forces, equalising the age of consent for LGBT individuals, the extension of adoption and IVF rights to same-sex couples, as well as advocating for the introduction of civil partnerships. Sir Ian McKellen’s co-founding of this incredible organisation speaks volumes to how influential he has been for equality for the wider community, and his continued role as a famous figure means he continues to speak, act, and advocate for the LGBTQ+ people.
Jonathan Blake is a British gay rights activist, and former member of the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). He was one of the first people diagnosed with HIV in the UK, and is in fact one of the country’s oldest surviving people with the illness. He has discussed his experiences of attitudes towards sexual health and homosexuality during the 1970s in great detail, helping to provide a source of much needed education for those whose lack of understanding has led to intolerance regarding the disease. He continues to speak openly about living with HIV and the struggles it entails, and fights against the stigmatisation of the illness.
He’s volunteered at various HIV drop-in centres, including The Landmark in Brixton/Tulse Hill, Lighthouse South London, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), and The Food Chain. He was the Face of THT’s first safer sex poster marketed towards gay men, and also partook in Peter Cash’s HIV Monologues (2016–18). He is a champion of the U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) campaign and a commentator on current LGBTQ+ rights issues. Also, in September 2014, the LGSM’s activities were dramatised in Pride, where he was played by Dominic West – this is a film I personally recommend due to the great accuracy and tact it displays regarding the LGBTQ+ community, AIDS, as well as the politics and society at the time. Jonathan Blake continues to be vocal, open and so blunt about his experiences and struggles in a way which I personally find so admirable – it’s clear he has made a great difference for the LGBTQ+ community with his candor and advocacy.
These are just three of a plethora of people who have made so much difference for the LGBTQ+ community, and I would encourage you to do your own research – learning about the LGBTQ+ fighters and advocates will help to bring out even more growth in tolerance, understanding and acceptance, which is something that even nowadays is sorely needed for many people in the LGBTQ+ community. With that said, happy researching and happy pride!