23 February 2021
Author: Thomas Rees
To begin, here are some of history’s lesser-known queer people.
: Anne Lister (1791-1840) rebelled against the class norms of her time. She was a wealthy landowner and ran a mine. Throughout her life, Anne kept a coded diary using a combination of algebra and Ancient Greek to disguise its content. The diary’s code wasn’t cracked until the late 19th century, revealing her romantic and sexual relationships with women. To learn more about Anne, you can watch the drama series Gentleman Jack, depicting her as ‘the first modern lesbian’.
: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) was a German lawyer, journalist and author who is regarded as a pioneer in the gay rights movement. Before the term homosexuality existed, Ulrichs defined the concept of sexual identity as an innate human characteristic and came out to his family and friends as an ‘urning’ – the term he used to describe a man who desires men. He wrote a series of essays and books on what he called the Riddle of Man-Manly Love, in which he explained such love as natural and biologically determined, and coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations. You can read more about Ulrichs here.
: Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) spent his life fighting for the rights of others. He was an advisor to Dr Martin Luther King Jr and an important figure in the Civil Rights movement. Bayard refused to hide his sexual orientation during a time when it wasn’t safe to be out. White supremacists used the colour of his skin and his sexual orientation to try and destroy him. You can hear an interview with Rustin from 1986 here.
: James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an African-American novelist who moved to France to escape the racist and homophobic behaviours he was witnessing in America, and his work highlighted the issues and challenges that came with being both black and gay. You can watch Baldwin in a 1968 episode of the Dick Cavett Show, where he talks about the racism he endured here. A trailer for his film I Am Not Your Negro can be viewed here.
: Alan Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician who was highly influential in the development of computer science and early computing. He created the Enigma machine during WW2, which helped to crack the ciphers of intercepted German messages, cutting the war short by several years. Historians believe that Turing’s work saved millions of lives across Europe. Despite his contribution to the war effort, which was little known due to the Official Secrets Act, he was charged with ‘gross indecency’ for being gay and punished with chemical castration. It is believed that this led to Turing taking his own life two years later.
: Marsha P Johnson (1945-1992) was an African-American transgender and gay liberation activist who played a prominent role in the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Despite issues with mental health and homelessness, she become a key figure in the LGBTQ civil rights movement, cofounding the gay and trans advocacy organisation Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). She featured in Andy Warhol’s 1975 Polaroid series Ladies and Gentlemen. You can hear Johnson talk about the night the Stonewall riots began here.
Some of our favourite queer culture resources:
: It’s a Sin – set in the 80s, documenting the AIDS crisis
: The Boys in the Band – a film based on the 1968 play by Mart Crowley featuring an all-gay cast
: The Prom – this is camp AF and the perfect Saturday night film
: Boy Erased – a true story about Christian conversion therapy in America
: Disclosure – documenting trans and gender nonconforming history in mainstream media.
: I Am Not Your Negro – documentary written by James Baldwin, voiced by Samuel L Jackson
: A Secret Love – illustrates a couple’s 65-year relationship and the courage both women displayed throughout their lives together
: Making Gay History – this is brilliant! Original interviews from the past 50 years
: Bad Gays – this sets out to rewrite the very one-note/stereotypical view we have of gay men
: The Dorothy Project – celebrating the women in queer culture
: Back to the F**ture with our very own Martin Raymond and Ryan Lanji. Tune in now
: Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities, edited by Meg-John Barker, Kat Gupta, Jos Twist and Benjamin Vincent – a collection of essays that unpacks the breadth of non-binary lives, across the boundaries of race, class, age, sexuality and faiths
: Gears for Queers by Abigail Melton and Lilith Cooper – a memoir by gay couple Melton and Cooper, written as they cycle across Europe, pushing themselves and their relationship to its limits
: I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya – Shraya discusses the changes she faces as a trans woman of colour
: Decriminalisation of Homosexuality in the UK – LGBTQA+ History Month 2021. In this video, Finn explores the history of British legislation on sexuality, and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. You can watch here
This article is part of our D&I series at The Future Laboratory. Explore the full series on our blog and discover what steps we are taking to make a better tomorrow happen.
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