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9 LGBTQ Icons That People Don't Talk About

Updated on August 14, 2017
Sara BenBella profile image

Sara is a theater performance and writing student at Kent State University. She is a huge advocate for equal rights, and dogs.

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Sappho

9. Sappho:

We start this list with perhaps the oldest gay icon in history Sappho. Sappho was a Greek poet during 600 and 500 B.C. who lived on the island Lesbos which sat just off of Greece. Though little of her poetry has been found, the lyric poems she wrote we have found are often about her love and appreciation for women. Because there are only pieces of her poems around, and not a full cut, it is hard to know exactly what she was talking about a lot of the time. But more often than not she speaks about love, sexual desires, and the beauty of women. All things that were considered risque in ancient Greece, especially when coming from a female.

What we do know of Sappho was that she was fairly successful when it came to poetry and managed to make a career out of writing, despite the time period she was born in. That being said many men in this time found her to be too lustful, and often wrote her in plays as a comedic character. To be laughed at and degraded.

In the modern world however she has become both a feminist and gay icon. In fact the term "Lesbian" is an allusion to the poets home Lesbos. Though her sexuality is still debated today by many scholars, there is no doubt that she has left a lasting impact on the LGBTQ community.


Mae West

8. Mae West

While more contemporary then Sappho's, Mae West was definitely a woman before her time, in more ways than one. Many see her as a feminist icon due to the fact that she was a successful playwright who wrote plays featuring strong women. She was also a precursor to Marilyn Monroe, best known for her rather scandalous nature, and fierce personality.

Coming to fame in the 30's and 40's, Mae West’s work was seen as controversial and her plays often got her into trouble due to censorship laws prevalent during that time. One play The Drag was even banned from being played in New York City, due to the story line being centered on a homosexual man, and his friends who wore drag. That and the fact that she didn’t condemn the “homosexual lifestyle” got her in trouble, and more than once she was arrested for breaking the Wales Padlock Law. A censorship law which prevented inappropriate plays and movies to be performed in New York City.

Inspiration for The Drag came from a young gay couple West knew who longed to be open about their relationship. Being an avid supporter for Gay Rights, Mae decided to do what she did best a wrote a play about them.

Marsha P. Johnson

7. Marsha P. Johnson

Thanks to several movies and books discussing the resistance, The Stonewall Riots have become a well-known event in LGBTQ history. The Stonewall Riots took place in June of 1969 in New York City, after the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, was violently raided by the police. Gay bars all over the town had been raided for weeks, but after facing injustice one to many times the bar patrons took action.

The event sparked an uprising, and LGBTQ individuals took to the streets protesting how they were being treated. Marsha P. Johnson was at the forefront of the uprising, fighting against the mistreatment and towards a revolution. Johnson was in the bar that was raided and apparently through a shot glass at the wall yelling “I got my civil rights”.

She was a colored trans-women, an incredible fact considering the gay rights movement up until this point had been headed by gay white men.


Sylvia Rivera

6. Sylvia Rivera

You cannot mention Marsha P. Johnson without Sylvia Rivera, another colored trans-woman who took control at Stonewall. Rivera was outside the bar and happily took part in the rebellion. She was very vocal about what was happening, and throwing bottles down the street she claimed that this was a ‘revolution’.

Both women became outspoken activist who rallied against several issues prominent in the LGBTQ community at the time after the riots ended. Rivera especially continued giving speeches on equality, and advocated for trans-women, drag queens, and lesbians, who were often treated even worse compared to gay white males.

Some even named her the “Mother of All Gay People” because of everything she had done for the community.


Larry Kramer

5. Larry Kramer

During the 1980's an epidemic hit America and the rest of the world with a vengeance, killing many gay men in its wake. The AID's epidemic, previously referred to as the "gay cancer" by those against gay rights, killed many young gay men during its peak, and reinforced a hatred and disgust for the LGBTQ community. Many activist fought for the care and acceptance of the individuals plagued with the illness, but Larry Kramer was perhaps the fiercest fighter.

Being a gay man himself he witnessed many of his friends dyeing because of this sickness, saying that within a few years he went to a at least 40 funerals. He saw the government’s reluctance to do anything about the epidemic and was rightfully infuriated by the lack of response. As a playwright he sought to inform people about AIDS using his works, the most well-known being The Normal Heart, which is based off of Kramer’s own experiences and frustrations.

As an activist he co-founded the 'Gay Man's Health Crisis' which assisted those living with the disease, after a while he left the group angry that they weren’t actively fighting, and instead founded ACT UP. A group which was devoted solely towards taking political action against laws and legislation about HIV/AIDS and gay rights.


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Alison Bechdel

4. Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel is a Lesbian comic known for her series 'Dykes To Watch Out For' which fellows different Lesbian characters as they go through their lives as homosexuals. Recently she has become known to the public because of her graphic novel 'Fun Home' which was made into a musical in 2014. The novel discusses Bechdel’s own life growing up as a gay individual in the Midwest, and partially explores her relationship with her Father, a closeted gay man.

Due to ‘Dykes To Watch Out For” and it’s female driven story lines we have the Bechdel Test. Which see's if a work of fiction has scenes where two woman talk to one another about something other than men. While Alison’s work passes the test with flying colors, unfortunately many movies and books still fail.

It is hard not to identify with Alison due to her dry humor, and openness about her own sexuality, and she is a great modern icon for not only the lesbian community but for the LGBTQ community as well.


Tennesse Williams

3. Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams is a name known by many, due to his success as an American playwright, most, if not all of his work, deals with sexuality in some way. Though Williams himself struggled deeply with his own sexuality, there is no doubt that he is a huge icon in both the theatrical and LGBTQ community. Many of his plays include closeted gay men, grappling with their sexuality and identity, much like Williams himself was.

He wrote in a time where coding was common, writing gay characters without stating their gay, yet having certain elements to suggest the characters sexuality. Though never saying it, he makes the characters sexuality clear using certain tropes gay audience members in that time knew to look out for when identifying a gay character.

Giving a voice to the voiceless, many LGBTQ individuals connect with his works today, due to their relevance.


James Dean

2. James Dean

Though this one is fairly obvious, people tend to forget how awesome James Dean actually was in the 50’s. He was the bad boy that women loved and that men wanted to be, and had a great deal of influence on American culture, and on teens during the 50’s. He also had an incredibly interesting way of looking at sexuality.

The actor was surprisingly fluid considering the fact that he worked in Hollywood during a time when homosexuality was still considered an illness. Not only that but he was relatively open about it his own sexuality. Never hiding who he was, he basically stated that though he didn't identify as a homosexual, he wasn't going to limit his options by only dating women.

The fact that he was so progressive was empowering to see for those closeted during that time period. Then after his early death due to a car accident he became an icon for gay men, and was often referenced in gay literature and plays. Such as Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, a well-known play featuring a trans-woman and her relationship with those she knew before she came out.


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The Babadook

1. The Babadook

Okay so maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon two months too late, but can you honestly blame for putting this as number one? By now we've all heard about this horror movie villain becoming a symbol for gay rights everywhere. The Babadook has been seen on flags, Tumblr, and articles with the classic rainbow colors shinning behind him. It just didn't feel right to not include him on this list, or her, does the Babadook even identify as a specific gender?

I digress.

This beautiful icon came to be after the streaming service Netflix mistakenly put the movie under the LGBTQ movie section instead of the horror movie section. Tumblr users noticed and it didn’t take long until they were running wild with theories. And now it's hard to imagine the strikingly dark character as anything other than the newest gay icon.

© 2017 Sara BenBella

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