There are so many people working in the social, political and even entertainment industries who have changed the way LGBTQ+ people live in this world. From changing policy to influencing others to supporting their queer siblings, here are ten LGBTQ+ North Americans you should know about.
Considered a trailblazer of the Stonewall movement, Marsha P Johnson was much more than that. A trans woman, she began an organization called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to help queer and trans youth on the streets find shelter, help and safety. Her support helped many, and she will forever be one of the most important icons in American history.
Portrayed by Sean Penn in the biopic ‘Milk’, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician elected in California. While in office, he worked on legislation that would ban housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination based on sexual orientation. Tragically, Milk was assassinated in 1978 in large part due to his outspoken support and participation in “the homosexual lifestyle.”
A trans actress best known for her role as a trans character on Orange is the New Black, Cox is not only an icon in the entertainment world, but also in the greater world as the first trans person on the cover of TIME magazine and an outspoken advocate for all LGBTQ+ people.
The first openly gay man drafted to an NFL team, Michael Sam is a trailblazer. While his time in the NFL was short, his openness about his sexuality challenged the hetero-centric masculinity of the organization and encouraged others to be more open-minded.
The first Black woman to win an Emmy award for comedy writing, Lena Waithe also brings her sexuality into much of her work. Being a Black lesbian in America is tough, and Waithe doesn’t shy away from showing just how difficult it can be – while also championing the forward progress being made and standing up for others in the LGBTQ+ community.
The subject of Canada’s first LGBTQ+ Heritage Minute, Jim Egan fought against homophobia in the 1940s, when it was very dangerous for gay men to speak out. In the 1980s, he led the charge for spousal benefits to be extended to same-sex partners – a massive win for all LGBTQ+ Canadians.
While much of LGBTQ+ history in North America is overwhelmingly white, Doug Stewart was the founder of Zami, the first Black queer group in Toronto. Race is an important identity, especially in the queer community; Stewart and other members of Zami spoke out against the racism they experienced in queer circles in Canada throughout the 80s and 90s.
A writer, artist and educator hailing from Calgary, Shraya is a trans person of colour dedicated to showing the lived experiences, positive and negative, of those in Canada who are considered outsiders. Similar to Doug Stewart mentioned above, Shraya especially examines the intersections of race, gender and sexuality in her works.
In 1974, four lesbians – Adrienne Rosen, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Lamar Van Dyke – were thrown out of a bar and later arrested in Toronto – simply for being openly lesbian. Singing at a bar, they adopted a well-known song to show their pride in being gay. When cops came to take them out of the bar, at the request of the manager, two were injured. The four later went to court with the LGBTQ+ community rallying around them. This case highlighted abuse by the police against queer Canadians and paved the way for better protections of queer Canadians.
Quite a lot of Indigenous history in Canada has been erased by colonization, especially surrounding gender and sexuality. Jeremy Dutcher, an Indigenous performer, musician and activist who identifies as Two-Spirit, is one of the many activists working to bring this history back to modern-day. As a Two-Spirit person, he fulfills a ‘third gender’ role in many Indigenous ceremonial and cultural events and speaks of moving away from a Western way of defining gender and sexuality.