October is LGBT History Month, a national, annual observance of LGBT history. GSA is celebrating this month by recognizing six important individuals in queer history.
Tammy Baldwin served seven terms in the House of Representatives. She was the first woman from Wisconsin and first openly gay person person elected to congress. As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, she spearheaded the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She also led legislation to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. In 2012, Baldwin became the first woman from Wisconsin and first openly gay person elected to senate. She continues to fight for the middle class and work towards her goal of an economy that works for everyone.
Marsha P. Johnson was a beloved, outspoken gay rights activist and important figure of the New York LGBT community. Many identify her as one of the first to fight back against the police during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front. She also co-founded S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), an organization to feed homeless LGBT youth in New York City, and she created STAR House, a shelter for these individuals. Near the end of the 1980s, Johnson became an AIDS activist with ACT UP. In 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River. Police labeled it suicide, but others think it was a hate crime.
Native New-Yorker Audre Lorde was an eloquent poet and a feminist activist. As a black lesbian and a daughter of immigrants, she brought an intersectional perspective to the table. Her published work (both poetry and prose) confronted and addressed the struggle of those facing racism, sexism, and homophobia, and she encouraged her readers to confront the prejudices in their own lives. She won several prizes, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit and the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1991 until her death in 1992.
Harvey Milk was a gay rights activist and small business owner in San Francisco. After running a second time, he was elected to the city’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. During his time in office, he launched into effect a bill which prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and personal accommodations based on sexual orientation. This bill remains one of the country’s strongest measures taken towards gay rights. In 1978, Milk was assassinated by a former colleague. His birthday, May 22, is now recognized in California as Harvey Milk Day.
Sally Ride, a Stanford University graduate, was one of the six first female astronauts at NASA. On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman and the youngest American to fly in space. During this mission, she worked a robotic arm to put satellites in space. She flew into space again in 1984. After leaving NASA, she became a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego. In 2001, she co-founded Sally Ride Science to inspire students, especially girls and minorities, to pursue STEM. In 2003, she was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Edie Windsor was one of the very few women in computer programming in the 1950s, and she was honored in 1987 by the National Computing Conference as a pioneer in operating systems. She was also an active volunteer with many gay rights organizations. However, her most significant contribution was near the end of her life. After her wife died in 2009, Windsor was not eligible for tax exemption. This was because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Windsor fought this law until it reached the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 ruling overturned DOMA, allowing same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. This is the first time same-sex marriage was ever recognized in the Supreme Court.
Good movies to watch:
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (new on Netflix!)
MILK (on Netflix)
Before Stonewall (on Amazon Prime)
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Schwartz, John. “Between the Lines of the Defense of Marriage Act Opinion.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 June 2013.
History.com Staff. “Harvey Milk.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2017.
“About Tammy.” Tammy Baldwin for Senate.
Grinberg, Emanuella. “Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin Is First Openly Gay Person Elected to Senate - CNNPolitics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 Nov. 2012, 3:01 PM ET.
“Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.
“About Audre Lorde.” The Audre Lorde Project.
“Audre Lorde.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Oct. 2017.
Dunbar, Brian. “Who Was Sally Ride?” NASA, NASA, 12 May 2015.
“Dr. Sally Ride.” Sally Ride Science, UC San Diego, 2016.