We all know at least one woman who changed our lives for the better. Whether this be your mom, aunt, cousin, sister, girlfriend, partner, etc; she made a difference. To honor these and millions more amazing women, we celebrate International Women’s Day every year on March 8th. On this day, we honor and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We asked the Pride Palace family who were their favorite LGBTQ+ influential women, and these are the top 10:
Jane Addams was a social reformer and activist famous for the settlement house movement. In 1889, Addams and Elen Gates Starr founded the first settlement house in the United States: Hull House (Chicago). The goal was for educated women to share all kinds of knowledge with poorer people in the neighborhood. Addams later became internationally respected for her peace activism, which won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to receive this honor. She also served as president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections from 1909-1915, the first woman to hold that title. In addition, Addams became active in the women’s suffrage movement as an officer in the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and pro-suffrage columnist. She was also among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Historian Lillian Faderman notes that Addams “spent her adult years, almost until her death, with other women, in long-term relationships that we would describe as lesbian today.”
Frida Kahlo was a passionately bisexual Mexican painter famous for capturing Mexican identity with her surrealist work. When she was 18, she suffered a horrific accident in Mexico City. This injury transformed her life. Stuck in a hospital bed, Kahlo began painting again with the support of a special frame and the aid of a mirror above her bed. This was when she began painting her herself. About 80% of her paintings were self-portraits. As she later explained, “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.” Unfortunately, her suffering continued until her death at the age of 47. However, her impact was life-changing. The traditional representation of women was challenged by Kahlo’s capacity to depict reality in a unique way. She offered a distinct vision to taboo subjects, such as maternity, sexuality and the social position of women. Kahlo became the first Mexican artist to be featured in the Louvre in 1939 and is now recognized as an icon of feminism, the Mexican-American civil rights movement, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Stormé DeLarverie was known as the butch lesbian famous for her efforts during the uprising at the StoneWall Inn in Greenwich Village. DeLarverie toured the black theater circuit from 1955 to 1969 as the MC and the only drag king of the Jewel Box Revue, the first racially integrated drag revue in North America. She also worked as a bouncer for many lesbian bars in New York City and held a number of leadership positions in the Stonewall Veterans Association. In addition, DeLarverie served as a volunteer street patrol worker, and as a result, was called the "guardian of lesbians in the Village." Beyond her LGBTQ activism, DeLarverie also organized and performed at fundraisers for women who suffered from domestic violence and their children.
Edith “Edie” Windsor was an American LGBTQ+ rights activist and a technology manager at IBM. Windsor married her partner (a woman), Thea Clara Spyer, in Canada due to strict laws in the United States. However, when Windsor’s wife died in 2009, 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. Windsor and her belated wife made history.
Audre Lorde was a self-described black lesbian, mother, warrior and poet. Through her pedagogy and writing, Lorde made lasting contributions in the fields of feminist theory, critical race studies and queer theory. Among her most notable works are “Coal” (1976), “The Black Unicorn” (1978), “The Cancer Journals” (1980) and “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” (1982). “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t,” she explained. Lorde was also the co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a founding member of Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa and poet laureate of New York State in 1991.
Barbara C. Jordan was an American civil rights leader, educator and attorney. Jordan became the first African American elected to the Texas Senate in 1966. Then, she became the first woman and first African American from Texas elected to Congress in 1972. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1994 for her work as a political trailblazer. While Jordan never explicitly spoke about her sexual orientation, she was open about her life partner of nearly 30 years, Nancy Earl.
Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken transgender rights activist also famous for her efforts during the uprising at the StoneWall Inn in Greenwich Village. A self-made drag queen, Johnson found happiness in the nightlife of New York City as she was famous for her unique design and costume creation. After a period of self-discovery, she settled on Marsha P. Johnson as her official name, the “P” standing for “Pay It No Mind.” Johnson served as a “drag mother” by helping homeless and struggling LGBTQ+ youth. Her nature and strength led her to speak out against injustices and mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Many have recognized her as the vanguard of the gay liberation movement in the United States. Following the Stonewall riot, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), aimed at providing shelter and food to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in New York City, Chicago, California, and England for a few years in the early 1970s. Although it eventually disbanded, their impact was huge. Johnson and Rivera became fixtures in the community, helping hundreds of homeless transgender youth.
Sally K. Ride became one of the most inspiring and groundbreaking women in American History. Ride joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. She remains the youngest American to ever travel in space at the age of 32. Her career with NASA began when she was one of 8,000 people to answer an advertisement in her college student newspaper seeking applicants for the space program. Despite the historical significance of her mission into space because of her gender, Sally Ride regarded herself first and foremost as an astronaut. She spent more than 343 hours in space, which is over two weeks time. Although Ride was a very private person, her sister revealed after Ride’s death that she had a relationship with former professional tennis player Tam O’Shaughnessy for over 27 years.
Ellen DeGeneres is an American comedian, talk show host and producer who famously risked her career to come out as a lesbian in 1997. When DeGeneres came out of the closet, the media and its backlash were very harsh, including hate mail, death threats, and ultimately the cancellation of her show. After she came out, there was no guarantee at all that Ellen’s career would survive. However, not only did it survive, but it also rose much higher than it had in the 1990s, and a few of the honors showered on her included the Presidential Medal of Freedom and multiple Emmy Awards. Although her sitcom Ellen was canceled, she went on to launch the even more successful The Ellen Show. Ellen DeGeneres also contributes to many charities and organizations. One of her biggest projects is the Small Change Campaign, which she launched with Ben Affleck. The campaign is dedicated to helping Feeding America, a charity that works to put an end to hunger in the United States. The other charities Ellen contributes to include The Trevor Project, Habitat for Humanity, The Gentle Barn, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and STOMP Out Bullying.
Emmy-nominated Laverne Cox is one of the most prominent transgender actresses to this day. She rose to fame when playing Sophia Burset, a transgender woman on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. After that, Cox began using her voice to speak out for the transgender community and its rights movement with her iconic 2014 Time magazine cover, titled "The Transgender Tipping Point." She is the first openly trans person to be nominated for a prime-time Emmy in an acting category. Furthermore, Cox has now been nominated for three and won a Daytime Creative Arts Emmy for producing the documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. She is also the first openly trans person to be featured on the covers of Time, Cosmopolitan, and British Vogue. Laverne Cox has received an honorary doctorate from the New School for her work to advance gender equality and has been recognized by the Transgender Law Center and the Forum for Equality.
International Women’s Day marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity worldwide. Today, many groups around the world are coming together to celebrate women's achievements and rally for women's equality. We at Pride Palace are here to amplify the voices of all women and stand by our mission of ensuring equality for all. Happy International Women’s Day everyone!
Written by Paloma Pinto