While those interested in LGBT history are becoming more aware of important figures in transgender history, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Lili Elbe, through films that chronicle their lives, there were so many trans women who fought for their rights and happiness but were never covered in history class. Here are five women who broke major ground and deserve a spot in the curriculum.
1) Renée Richards
This professional US tennis player was breaking ground for trans rights in the 1970s. Richards, who prefers the label transsexual to transgender, was ranked sixth out of the top 20 male tennis players over 35 before she transitioned in 1975. When she was denied entry into the 1976 U.S. Open by the United States Tennis Association, she took her case to the New York Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. After Judge Alfred M. Ascione ruled in Richards’ favor, she went on to the finals in doubles in her first U.S. Open in 1977. Richards also defeated Nancy Richey for the 35 and over singles title at the 1979 U.S. Open.
In addition to being a success on the court, Richards was a doctor who returned to her medical practice after retiring from tennis. She became the surgery director of ophthalmology and head of the eye-muscle clinic at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital. She also published two autobiographies. Her first autobiography, Second Serve, became the basis for the documentary film Renée.
2) Tracey "Africa" Norman
Tracey Norman, who often went by Tracey Africa, is best known for being the first African American transgender woman model. Norman appeared on a box of Clairol in the 1970s and landed a contract with Avon for a skin care line. In 1971, renowned photographer Irving Penn photographed Norman for Italian Vogue. She was also photographed for Essence in 1980, but when her transgender identity was discovered she was blacklisted in the United States.
She then moved to Paris and signed a six-month contract with Balenciaga. When it became more difficult to find modeling work, Norman began appearing in a burlesque peep show for trans women and became active in the ball community.
3) Miss Major
Miss Major is a trans woman activist who has done everything from participating in the 1969 Stonewall riots to serving as the Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which helps transgender people who are disproportionately incarcerated.
Miss Major was born in Chicago and became involved in the drag ball scene. She came out as a teenager in the 1950s Miss Major also worked as an activist and caretaker in the San Francisco Bay Area during the AIDS epidemic, and later went on to work at the TGIJP.
4) Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy (Coccinelle)
Best known by her stage name, Coccinelle, Jaqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy was a French actress, club singer, and activist. Her transition was first widely publicized sexual reassignment case in Europe. After a career as an entertainer and appearing in the films Los Viciosos in 1962, and Días de Viejo Color in 1968, Coccinelle became an activist, and founded “Devenir Femme” (To Become Woman), which provided support for those seeking sexual reassignment surgery, and helped establish the Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
5) Lucy Hicks Anderson
Lucy Hicks Anderson hosted elaborate parties for the rich and ran a brothel that provided liquor during Prohibition. Her connections to wealthy and powerful residents helped her skirt the law. When residents found out she was a trans woman, her marriage was challenged, and Anderson became an early pioneer in the fight for marriage equality when she became the first trans person to go to court to fight for her rights. In a time when trans people were nearly invisible, Anderson came out in childhood, and her parents raised her as a girl.