October is LGBT History Month, and as 20-gay-teen nears its end, I thought what better way to celebrate our icons of the past and present than by showcasing people who have had lasting contributions to the community but haven't been as recognized as they should be?
Of course, I use "queer" as a blanket term, since not everyone on this list identifies as such (that being said, there are no straight people featured—we love you, allies, but take a seat). Each person featured has impacted the community in immeasurable ways, and in my opinion, haven't been celebrated as much as they should be, especially by LGBT kids and teens today. So without further ado, here are 20 icons you should definitely know.
Claude Cahun was a French photographer. She is best known for her highly staged self portraits that incorporated Surrealist aesthetics. She also escaped the Nazis and made anti-German fliers during WWII, and was generally a bad-ass.
Bayard Rustin was a nonviolent Civil Rights activist who co-organized the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 and helped organize the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Although he had to work in the background because of his sexuality, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and should be celebrated by anyone who considers themselves an activist.
Frank Kameny co-founded the Washington D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society. He also worked to overturn the DC laws on sodomy and worked to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM.
Edith Windsor was the lead plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of DOMA. She also helped found Old Queers Acting Up and has received numerous awards for her work in activism and technology.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the state of California. He was assassinated in 1978 by Dan White, a city supervisor, which sparked marches and protests. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Audre Lorde was a poet and Civil Rights activist who wrote nearly 20 books. Her work focused on sexuality, identity, and her battle with cancer. She's been a major influence on Black Feminist thought and was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1991 until her death.
Vito Russo was an LGBT activist, film historian, and author. He wrote The Celluloid Closet and wrote, produced, and co-hosted a series called Our Time for WYNC-TV. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and worked closely with ACT-UP. He died of AIDS complications in 1990.
You can thank Gilbert Baker for the iconic Pride flag. He designed the flag in 1978, and each color has an attribute associated with it. Fun fact: the original pride flag had a hot pink stripe! His other artistic works are featured in many museums and archival collections.
Leslie Cheung was a Hong Kong singer and actor who was one of the founding fathers of "Cantopop." He was the first and only foreign artist to hold a record 16 concerts in Japan and was voted 3rd most iconic musicians of all time, under Michael Jackson and The Beatles.
A Cuban-American visual artist known for his minimal installations and sculptures. He joined Group Material in 1987, a New York based art collaboration focused on activism and community education.
Zanele Muholi is a South African visual artist and activist. She works in photography, video, and installation and her art focuses on black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.
Zhou Dan is a Chinese lawyer, scholar, and HIV/AIDS activist. He founded the Shanghai Hotline for Sexual Minorities in 2003. In 2004, he was a visiting scholar at Yale with an emphasis on anti-discrimination and equality in relation to sexuality and HIV/AIDS.
Jahnabi Goswami was the first woman in the Northeast to declare her HIV status. She is the founder and current treasurer of Assam Network of Positive People (ANPP) and the president of Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+).
Storme Webber is an Aleut/Black/Choctaw Two-Spirit writer, artist, and educator. Her poetry has been featured in many anthologies and she's appeared in documentaries like Venus Boyz. She teaches creative writing at the University of Washington.
Vaginal Davis is a performing artist, writer, and filmmaker. She's considered one of the founders of the homo-core punk movement and the Queercore zine movement. She was a keynote speaker at the Creative Time Summit in Washington, D.C. in 2016.
Sydney Freeland is an award winning Navajo Filmmaker and 2004 Fulbright scholar. She wrote and directed Drunktown's Finest, and has directed for Grey's Anatomy, Heathers (series), and Her Story, a webseries about queer and trans women.
Amos Mac is a photographer and publisher, and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Original Plumbing magazine. He worked on the first fashion campaign to feature an all trans cast and crew, and he was featured on The Trans List on HBO.
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is a (very) British YouTuber, writer, and LGBT and Disability rights activist--she also has a distinct vintage style. She's been featured in Diva Magazine and works with Enhance the UK and Stand Up to Cancer UK. She recently created a series on her YouTube channel about the importance of captioning videos for International Week of the Deaf.
Schuyler Bailar is a Harvard Swimmer and public speaker. He's the first trans man to be an NCAA Division 1 athlete. He also assisted with USA Swimming cultural inclusion guides for LGBT and Asian-American athletes. He is open about his identity and mental health on his social media and recently published a short story in Fresh Ink: An Anthology.
Josie Totah is an actress that gained critical acclaim for her performance in Other People. She's also appeared on Jessie, Glee, Champions, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. She came out as transgender in August in a Time Magazine article.