Pride Month: Leadership Spotlight Series

Khan Lab School
June 4, 2021 / 5 mins read

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated eachJune to recognize the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City, and has been formally recognized by multiple United States Presidents. The events at Stonewall, led by trans women of color activists,was a tipping point for what became known as the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. The Library of Congress shares more about the purpose of Pride Month:

"This month-long celebration demonstrates how LGBTQ Americans have strengthened our country, by using their talent and creativity to help create awareness and goodwill."

The KLS Community joins in this celebration of LGBTQ Americans, and below, we will share about resources that spotlight just a few LGBTQ leaders who have made an impact in the United States.

Barbara Gittings: Organizer and Political Activist

A portrait photo of Barbara Gittings.

Barbara Gittingsbegan advocating for gay rights in the late 1950s, includingthe formation of New York's chapter ofthe Daughters of Bilitis,the first lesbian civil rightsgroup in the U.S., in 1958.In the 1960s, Gittings organized some of the first public demonstrations pushing for gay and lesbian civil rights, including the annual demonstrations known as the "Annual Reminders"in front of Independence Hall each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969.Gittings and fellow organizers paused the Annual Reminders after 1969 in order to support the 1970 march marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations. This 1970 march is regarded as the first New York City Pride Parade.

Gittings and fellow activists spent years focusing on civil rights changes with the American Psychiatric Association, culminating in the 1973 removal of homosexuality from classification as a mental disorder. She was also instrumental in proliferating literature by gay and lesbian authorsin U.S. libraries, volunteering with the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association and serving as their lead coordinator for 16 years. Barbara Gittings is remembered as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement we know today due to herdecadesof civil rights advocacy work.

Continue reading about Barbara Gittings here.

Bayard Rustin: Civil RightsActivist

Portrait of Bayard Rustin

Throughout the course of his life,Bayard Rustinwas an African American leader in social movements advocating forcivil rights,socialism,nonviolence, andgay rights. The 1941 March on Washington Movement was co-organized by Rustin and other activists to push for eliminating racism in employment. Rustin also organized Freedom Rides in support of Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violent approaches to demonstrations.

A gay man, Rustin became a public advocate for gay rights in the 1980s despite criticism over his sexuality. He worked to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis to the NAACP and spent his life devoted to the struggle for justice for many underrepresented groups.PresidentBarack Obamaposthumously awarded Bayard Rustin thePresidential Medal of Freedomon November 20, 2013.

Continue reading about Bayard Rustin here.

Edie Windsor: LGBTQ Marriage Rights Advocate

Edie Windsor waving from a car in a parade at D.C. Pride in 2017.

In 2013, Edie Windsor's landmark Supreme Courtvictory over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) laid the groundwork for marriage equality in the U.S.Windsor broke multiple boundaries throughout her lifetime. Startingin 1956, Windsor began her two-decade long career working with computers, and by 1958, she joined IBM. After winning a scholarship fromIBM forPhD. Scholarship, she was honored in 1987by the National Computing Conference as a Pioneer in Operating systems.

Engaged to her partner for 42 years, Windsor married Dr. Thea Spyer on May 22, 2007. Prior to the pivotal court case ruling in 2013, Windsor and Spyer had their marriage recognized by New Yorkin 2008, andSpyer died shortly thereafter in 2009. Dr. Spyerleft her entireestateto Windsor, and when Windsor sought to claim the federalestate taxexemptionforsurviving spouses, Section 3 ofDOMA barred her from doing so. Following this, Windsor sued the federal government in theU.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.District JudgeBarbara S. Jonesruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional, a ruling which was later affirmed by theU.S. Court of Appeals.

The 2009 documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long EngagementcommemoratesWindsor's 42-year long engagement and eventualmarriage to Dr. Thea Spyer. She traveled in the U.S. and in Europe with the documentary, using the opportunity to advocate for LGBTQ issues and marriage equality.

Continue reading about Edie Windsor here.

Harvey Milk: Bay Area LGBTQ Rights Leader

Photo of LGBTQ leader and San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, Harvey Milk

One of the most well-known Bay Area LGBTQ leaders in the movement for LGBTQ civil rights, Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. From the Harvey Milk Foundation's official biography:

"Harvey Milk, was a visionary civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk's unprecedented loud and unapologetic proclamation of his authenticity as an openly gay candidate for public office, and his subsequent election gave never before experienced hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people everywhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination."

Read more here to learn about the life of impact and legacy Harvey Milk left behind.

Watch: Read-aloud Picture Book - Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

From Brightly Storytime: "Ms. Linda reads a moving and empowering true story for young readers that traces the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today's world. Get the book here: "

Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera: Leaders of the NYC Stonewall Riots

Photo of LGBTQ activist, Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnsonwas an iconic Black activist in the early movement for LGBTQIA+ civil rights in the United States. After experiencing a difficult childhood due to anti-LGBTQIA+ ideologies,Marsha movedto New York City's West Village in 1967 to forge a new life safe from discriminatory violence. Shortly thereafter, in 1969,Marsha was present at the Stonewall Innand is said to have thrown the first brick, causing the historic Stonewall Inn Riots that launched the modern LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement in the United States.

After the Stonewall Inn Riots, Marsha became friends with fellow LGBTQIA+ activist of color Sylvia Rivera. Together, they co-founded the organization that came to be known as STAR,a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Johnson dedicated her work to AIDS activism to increase awareness about the crisis and advocate for more affordable AIDS medication.

In the 1980s, Johnson became a tireless AIDS activist, demonstrating with theAIDS Coalition to Unleash Power(ACT UP) to help build awareness and lower the prices of AIDS medication.

Read more about Marsha P. Johnson here.

Photo of Sylvia Rivera, LGBTQ rights activist.

Sylvia Riverawas a remarkableLGBTQIA+ rights activist born to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents in 1951.Rivera was a regular patron atthe now-famous Stonewall Inn, and she was present during the1969Stonewall Riots. Activist work of Rivera's included co-founding STAR, a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City.

Sylviawas a fierce advocate for those on the margins of the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement following the Stonewall Riots. Her organizing work included the fightagainst the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and Sylvia was particularly focused on the rights of people of color, trans people, and those experiencing poverty.

Continue reading about Sylvia Rivera here.