Many queer people have sadly and unjustly had their stories extinguished and erased from history, facing homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and so much more. But so many have endured and raised awareness about these issues, performing amazing feats and blazing a trail in order to make the world a more accepting and inclusive place.
Here is a list of 8 LGBTQ+ trail blazers that you may never have heard of before and what they did to change the world:
1. Kristina Vasa (1626-1689)
This former queen/king of Sweden defied gender norms and never defined herself strictly to the binary girl or boy. She was raised learning all the things that in the 1600s only men would have learnt: wielding weapons, being well-versed in politics, philosophy, science, and much more. This was due to the fact that her father had no male heir and so raised Kristina like a boy. Following her father’s death, Kristina ascended to the throne as the first Queen Regent, but she didn't feel only female. She felt like a mix of both boy and girl, and even though she was pressured to marry a man for political power, she remained true to her own principles and did not give in; instead, she gave up her power and abdicated in exchange for her personal freedom.
2. Albert Cashier (1843-1915)
Although over 400 women disguised themselves as men and fought in the American Civil War, Albert Cashier was special in the way that he continued to live as a man after the war. Born Jennie Hodgers, she immigrated from Ireland to the US and wore men’s clothes to participate in the war under the name of Albert Cashier. He stayed with the name throughout his life, and was as brave and battleworthy as any other soldier on the battlefield. Unfortunately, after the onset of dementia later on in his life, he was sent to a state hospital where they discovered his birth assigned sex and forced him to wear a dress. The press found out and soon everybody knew that Albert Cashier was born a girl. However, his military friends, although surprised, supported him throughout it, and after his death, his tombstone was inscribed with his male identity and military service.
3. Lili Elbe (1882-1931)
Lili Elbe (previously known as Einar Wegener) was a trans woman, a Danish artist, and the first documented recipient of sex reassignment surgery. She first realised her true gender when her wife, Gerda (who was also a painter), asked her to wear traditionally female clothing and model for her. With the help of Gerda, she underwent many highly experimental surgeries which consisted of the removal of male genitalia and the transplanting of female genitalia into her body. She was legally considered a woman, and the two annulled their marriage, not wanting to hold each other back. Lili accepted a proposal from an old friend, Claude, but tragically died in her final surgery, where they were attempting to transplant a uterus inside Lili. She remains an icon till this day for being brave enough to defy societal expectations and living life to the fullest.
4. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous artists ever. Half-German, half-Mexican, she is known for her many self-portraits and her openness about her bisexuality. She survived a traumatic accident at the age of eighteen, when after her bus crashed, a piece of iron handrail had pierced her body from one side to the other. She underwent 36 different surgeries, and because she was so lonely, she began to paint out of sheer boredom. That small hobby soon became her life, and her paintings hang in the Louvre today. She mostly painted portraits of herself, as it was easy to look in a mirror to paint when bedridden. Throughout her life she was openly with multiple female and male partners, and this icon showed people around the world that she wasn't ashamed of who she loved and she would do what she wanted to.
5. Alan Turing (1912-1954)
This world renowned genius worked at Bletchley Park during the world and had an idea for a “universal machine” that served as a basis for modern computers. He managed to crack the Enigma code and saved countless lives from the german u-boats. He was also a gay man, and although he was relatively open about it since his childhood (which was dangerous at that time in Britain), he was arrested in 1952 for it. All of his input to the Allied win was disregarded as soon as he was arrested for “gross indecency”. His sentence gave him two options: prison or chemical castration, which required him to take estrogen for a year in hopes of “curing” his homosexuality. He eventually commited suicide by cyanide poisoning in 1954, but is still remebered as having one of the greatest minds of all time.
6. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
This man was one of the most important people during the famed 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (in which a quarter million people showed up!), and was Martin Luther King Jr.’s right hand man. Rustin was the one to convince Dr. King to make their protest non-violent, after travelling to India to study Gandhian non-violence. He didn’t want to harm other people in his cause for freedom and was determined to stick to his own moral compass. However, there were many hard times in his life: he faced a lot of racial and and homophobic prejudice. But he never wavered from his cause and didn’t try to hide who he was. After the March, he became an internationally known name and worked for peace and justice globally.
7. José Sarria (1922-2013)
In San Francisco, cross dressing was a crime, and for drag queens in the 1950s, it was a horrible time. José however, worked hard to help his fellow queers and give them the right and love that they deserved. The Latino-American drag performer and political activist was the first openly gay person to run for public office in the USA. He would perform one-man versions of famous operas like Carmen at the Black Cat cafe, and encouraged friends and family to ask for a jury trial and stand up to police harassment instead of quietly pleading guilty and paying a fine. He also founded multiple LGBTQ+ organisations and although he didn't win a seat in 1962, his campaign helped lay the foundations for future successful campaigns by openly gay men like Harvey Milk.
8. Gauri Sawant (1982-Present)
As the first Indian transgender mother, Gauri is certainly a strong contender on this list. After her mother’s passing, Gauri was raised by a single police officer father whose home was an extremely masochistic environment. Born Ganesh, Gauri always related to the girls and displayed many traditionally “feminine” traits, which she was mocked for. Her own father distanced himself from her, embarrassed of his daughter. Finally, Gauri ran away from home, and joined the Humsafar Trust, one of the oldest LGBTQ+ organisations in india. But her proudest moment was when she adopted a young girl named Gayatri, whose birth mother was a sex worker who died of HIV. That was when she truly became a mother. Other notable things that she has done includes being the director of Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, which helps transgender people and spreads awareness on HIV/Aids, and being made goodwill ambassador in Maharashtra, India.