A full list of powerful and important queer women could go on for days—but in honor of LGBTQ History Month—here is a list of 10 of our favorite pioneers! This list, in no particular order, includes the mothers of Black feminism and queer theory, as well as some modern entertainers who have shaped the way the United States views womanhood.
An amazing example of intersecting identities, Audre Lorde was an American writer and poet who identified strongly as a Black feminist lesbian, referring to herself as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Lorde blazed a trail of Black female empowerment before passing away from breast cancer far too early in 1992. She must be remembered as a resilient civil rights activist who immortalized herself in her poetry.
Author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker is another writer/activist. In addition to writing about injustice, she travels to speak internationally on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, and oppressed. Walker’s work as a queer woman of color has been vital to the civil rights movement.
Sylvia Rivera, a transgender activist, was one of the first women to throw a bottle at the Stonewall Inn raid in 1969. Rivera was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. A pioneer of transgender rights, she was once quoted saying “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
One of our favorite gay ladies—Ellen DeGeneres is one of the country’s most beloved lesbians who has used her platform as a popular talk show host to be unapologetically out and proud. She continues to stand for LGBT rights next to her beautiful wife, Portia de Rossi, whom she wedded in California in 2008.
bell hooks (a stylized pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins) is the author of a multitude of books and articles on feminism, including Feminism Is for Everybody and Ain’t I a woman?: Black Women and Feminism. In her feminist theory work, bell hooks addresses race, class, and gender and has contributed greatly to the expansion of the ideas of intersectionality, queerness, and social activism.
Another entertainer, Laverne Cox has been one of the most prominent transgender actresses perhaps to this day. After gaining popularity for playing a transgender woman on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, she began to use her voice to speak out for the transgender community.
When Edie Windsor’s wife died (they were married in Canada), she sued the federal government for the over $360,000 she was made to pay in estate taxes. This led to one of the most significant marriage equality supreme court cases—the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act. When the Supreme Court justices ruled 5-4, Windsor’s case was the first time a same-sex marriage was recognized in the United States.
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is an extremely important feminist figure. Though she was born in the early 1900’s, she was openly radical, spoke out about being disabled after a bus accident, and took both male and female lovers. Her many self-portraits comment on the female form and utilize traditional Mexican themes and colors.
Well known by any Women’s Studies major, Sedgwick is a matriarch of queer theory. She is perhaps best known for her work, the Epistemology of the Closet in which she explores the meaning of hetero and homosexuality and the how queerness exists as a separate, less restricting entity.
With more than 20 albums, Ani DiFranco is a feminist music legend. DiFranco has been political and justice-oriented since the start of her career (she started her own record label at age 18). She has addressed social inequalities such as homophobia, racism, and reproductive rights in her music as well as in activism and political support.