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12 Important LGBT Activists You Need to Know About

The powerhouses that ignited change.

While you have probably heard of Harvey Milk and the Stonewall protesters, there are many other influential people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities who have fought hard to promote LGBT rights and equality.

Below, you'll find a list of prolific LGBT activists who have ignited change. It’s important to know the game-changing players of the past and present, and who who ultimately changed the course of history.

Lynn Conway

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Lynn Conway is notable for her pivotal engineering achievements, which she attained during her time working at IBM. However, once she expressed her desire to transition to female, IBM fired her. In 2013, Conway and a colleague successfully lobbied the Board of Directors of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the world’s largest engineering professional society, to include protections for transgender people in their code of ethics. In January 2014, the code became fully inclusive of LGBT people. That same year, Time magazine named Conway one of the “21 Transgender People Who Influenced American Culture.”

Richard Isay

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Richard Isay was a psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, and gay activist who is credited with changing the way psychoanalysts view homosexuality. When he threatened to sue the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) over its discriminatory policies towards LGBT people, the APsaA changed its position on homosexuality and allowed gays and lesbians to become training analysts. In 1997, the APsaA became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon met in 1950 and were the first people married in San Francisco after the 2008 California Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage was legal. Together in 1955, they helped form the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization in the US.

Martin Duberman

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Martin Duberman is the author of more than 20 books, including three memoirs about his experience as a politically active gay man. He is a distinguished professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New York and Lehman College, where he founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.

José Sarria

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

In 1961, José Sarria became the first openly gay candidate for office when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (and won). He was known for performing as a drag queen at the Black Cat Bar, which he continued to do while in office. He’s also the founder of the Imperial Court System, which is the second largest LGBT organization in the world.

Bayard Rustin

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Although Bayard Rustin is better known as an influential advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. and for helping initiate the 1947 Freedom Ride, Rustin was also a gay rights activist and testified on behalf of New York State’s gay rights bills.

Sylvia Rivera

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Sylvia Rivera was a bisexual transgender activist and trans woman who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. She also helped found Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. Rivera fought for drag queens when, in hopes of appealing to the heterosexual majority, gay rights leaders sought to remove drag culture from their agenda.

Leonard Matlovich

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Leonard Matlovich was a Vietnam veteran and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. In 1975, he became the first service member to out himself to the military and fight their ban on gays. He fought to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out and became a national sensation, landing on the cover of Time magazine.

Janet Mock

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Janet Mock is a bestselling author, LGBT activist, and trans woman. Her memoir, Redefining Realness, debuted at #19 on the New York Times bestsellers list. She is now a contributing editor at Marie Claire, where she first came out as a trans woman in a 2011 article. She continues to speak about transgender issues and advocate for the rights of transgender people, especially trans women of color.

Chad Griffin

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

After dropping out of college at the age of 19, Chad Griffin became the youngest ever member of a presidential staff when he was appointed as a White House Press Office manager during Bill Clinton’s administration. Griffin founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights in order to overturn Proposition 8, which tried to ban same-sex marriage in California. Griffin was later appointed as the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT rights organization in the US.

Dan Savage

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Dan Savage is an activist and journalist who writes the internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice column "Savage Love" and the podcast by the same name. He began the It Gets Better Project in 2010 to help prevent suicide among LGBT youths. The project went viral, resulting in thousands of videos of encouragement for teenagers, including many by prominent LGBT celebrities, with more than 50 million views to date.

Featured photo: Janet Mock, courtesy of Alchetron

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