By Habiba Iqbal
February 2018 is the 14th LGBT history month here in the UK and many places have taken to promoting LGBT visibility by hanging out a dazzling rainbow spectrum of light-loud and proud.
LGBT history month is extremely important and is not only there to promote equality but to also reflect on how much progress is made and is yet to be made in terms of LGBT rights. There is a particular focus on: educating the public about LGBT history and experiences the community goes through; making educational institutions and other institutions safe places for all, making sure the LGBT community is equal in our society and is able to reach their full potential with no limitations.
With the spirit of LGBT history month embraced, Let’s all educate ourselves with this list of 5 LGBT people from the past and their stories:
1) Alan Turing
He was a very sharp man who was not only a mathematician but also logician and cryptographer. Turing is very much the father of modern computer science with his ingenious designs of the first real type of electronic and programmable computers.He even headed a classified mission to crack the Nazi’s Enigma machine code during the Second World War.
Disgustingly, his accomplishments were less important to people and him being a gay man made all those contributions to society mere details.This talented man went on to face criminal prosecution in 1952 because homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time. Either he had to go to prison or accept therapy. Upon choosing the latter- He was horrifically treated with female hormones (in an act known as chemical castration) which made him miserable. Sadly, he met his end in 1954 from cyanide poisoning which he supposedly self administered. Though the suggestion has been made it was the work of the secret service to remove him as a security risk.
The treatment of Alan Turing was revolting and that’s why things like LGBT history month are essential to preventing such future occurrences for other LGBT people alike. On 10 September 2009, after a campaign on the internet took of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.
‘Turing is also the father of Artificial Intelligence and his work in thermodynamics has helped to explain why patterns such as butterfly wings appear in nature.’ – Richard, Hertfordshire
2) Marsha P. Johnson
Johnson was an African American transgender activist and a key figure in New York City’s gay and art scene from the 1960s and onwards. In fact her legendary spirit lives on and she is still very much regarded as one of New York City’s most iconic drag queens.
She was a brave individual with such an exquisite spirit who did a lot for LGBT people. Here’s just merely a snapshot of the things she’s done: She participated in clashes with the police during the Stonewall Riots; along with Sylvia Rivera she co founded an organisation called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R. for short) which helped get together food and clothing to help support the young queens living in the house on the lower East Side of New York; she was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, she was an AIDS activists with ACT UP and she was also rather fondly known as the ‘mayor of Christopher Street’ which essentially became the main street of gay New York.
Devastatingly, in July 1992 Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River- the world was robbed of a great person and the LGBT community lost a true sister. Police ruled her death a suicide but Johnson friends and supporters disputed this by reinforcing the fact that she was not suicidal. It even came out that witnesses in fact saw Johnson being harassed earlier near the spot where her body was found. Attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful until November 2012 when activist Mariah lopez got NYPD to reopen the case as a possible homicide.
Today Johnson’s essence pervades and for very many Drag Queens she will forever be the true mother of Drag with her caring and powerful nature. I have merely grazed the surface as to all she has done for the LGBT community and to learn more I recommend checking out: The death and life of Marsha P. Johnson (a documentary you can find on netflix) or even Google her cause she’s fascinating.
3) Roberta Cowell
This wonderful lady takes the title of the first known British male-to-female transsexual to undergo vaginoplasty on May 15, 1951 via a surgical method created and done by Dr. Harold Gillies.
Cowell was a fighter pilot during the Second World War and after it ended she was faced with having to find a way to earn a living and support her wife and two children. Therefore with a business partner, she went and set up a specialist auto engineering company which was perfect for her as she had a thrill for speed and the re-starting of motor racing in 1946 also did a lot to encourage her. But things were still far from perfect in her personal life as a lengthy time away at war caused her marriage to fall apart and she ended up getting divorced.
She also went on to become sick and rather depressed. After seeking out help it was proven that Robertta was repressing a feminine side and that the ‘woman’ in her was very deep-rooted. Coincidently, after a squash match one time her opponent said “You know, you really ought to wear a brassiere!”. The joke actually prompted Cowell to try to find out just how much of a female she really was by consulted a famous Harley Street sexologist: who believed Cowell had quite prominent female characteristics.Medically, it was shown Cowell had an abnormal flow of female hormones in her body.With the choice of either carrying on as dismal as she was or to start living her life as female- she chose the latter. Roberta Cowell got her sexual reassignment surgery as well as other surgerys to make her look more feminine and begun her life as a fabulous lady in the 50s.
4) Jane Addams
She is also casually known as the ‘mother’ of social work with her pioneering work as an activist, philosopher, sociologist and heck even a leader in both women’s suffrage and world peace. This was a lady that did a lot for the social infrastructure of America and was rewarded by becoming the first US woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Addams was also a lesbian and had a 40 years long relationship with Mary Rozet Smith that was stuffed with passion and love.Together they were a brilliant activist dream team with Mary financially well off and willing to support Addams’s work, they were two unstoppable women living their lives. The two were only separated when at last in 1934 Mary died of pneumonia.
It was said that, “Mary Smith became and always remained the highest and clearest note in the music that was Jane Addams’ personal life.Together they owned a summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine and when apart, they would write to each other at least once a day. Addams was said to still write to Smith after her death telling her: “I miss you dreadfully and am yours ’til death”.
The beauty of their love lies in the vast reach it had. Not only were these two women madly in love with each other, they were also so full of love that they had the capacity to share it and to help those that were vulnerable. There’s something very beautiful about that.
5) Bayard Rustin
This man was a real leader who could truly take a stance. He even had a hand in both the civil rights movement and the LGBT movements. Rustin took up this activism life after he graduated college and moved to Harlem in 1937 and saw the social injustice shrouding society.
However, Rustin’s activism and heroic stances took a backseat when he was publicly outed following an arrest in 1953 for having sex with two men in a car. The response to his actions was sickening as he began to be shunned by civil-rights leaders. Nevertheless, Rustin was a leader and he wasn’t going to abandon his beliefs and disappear that easily. Rather, he boldly remained upfront about his sexuality, resumed his activist work and in the process inspired plenty of LGBT people all throughout time with his actions.
In fact, Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr himself, was the chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington and was responsible and part of many key moments in the civil rights struggle. Notably, in 1986 when speaking on behalf of the New York State’s Gay Rights Bill he delivered an infamous speech about how gay people had transformed into the new black people. He clarified that this in the sense ‘that gay people are the new barometer for social change,’. Rustin was an inspiring leader and a definite role model to look up to.
Here’s a video about Bayard Rustin worth checking out: