This month, on June 28, 1969, 53 years ago, LGBTQ Pride unofficially got its start with a series of riots and protests that took place at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City. Those demonstrations — the result of an illegal police raid on the inn and the queer community’s resulting decision to come together and stand up for their rights after years of previous abuses — gave birth to the modern Pride movement and the resulting celebration of LGBTQ history and heritage that comes along with it each summer.
Pride Month is a time to celebrate love and gender identity in all the various forms each can take, to reflect on the rights the LGBTQ community has fought so hard for over the past five-plus decades (including the growth of nondiscrimination laws and the 2015 Supreme Court approval of marriage equality), and to push for the continuing growth and expansion of those rights so all LGBTQ individuals have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else living in the United States.
Pride Month is also a time to reflect on our shared communal queer story — a tale involving a patchwork of trailblazers, freedom fighters, and history makers who fought valiantly to increase inclusion and representation in our world, and to pave a way for a better tomorrow for future generations.
In this four-part series, we’ll celebrate LGBTQ Pride by shining a spotlight on some of those individuals — people whose names you may not know or whose lives you may not be familiar with but whose essential contribution to LGBTQ history as a whole cannot be denied. We think of them as our DiversityInc Champions of Pride. Here are the stories of three of those incredible history makers:
The Suffragette: Jane Addams (1860 – 1935)
An Illinois native and inductee into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, Jane Addams was a model for activism and living one true self at the dawn of the twentieth century. Starting as far back as the early 1890s, Addams worked to found Hull House, one of the nation’s first immigrant-friendly settlement houses. Addams’ dream for the site was that it would allow a diverse and inclusive group of otherwise disenfranchised individuals (including openly LGBTQ individuals) to gather together without the impact of bias or hate.
A model for today’s modern progressive views, Addams also campaigned extensively for a variety of social causes including ending child labor, public health reform, equal labor laws, and fairer race relations. These tireless efforts helped Addams to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She was the first American woman to ever be awarded the honor.
Although she wasn’t fully able to live as an out lesbian because of the era in which she was born, biographers have noted that Addams spent all her adult life in long-term relationships with women, including a more than four-decade relationship with her life companion Mary Rozet Smith. The pair traveled together, shared the same room and bed, and even owned property together. Addams is said to have referred to Smith as “dearest” whenever the two were together and often told her love “I am yours ’til death.”
In her own words: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
The Codebreaker: Alan Turing (1912 – 1954)
Often considered one of history’s most talented mathematicians, logicians, cryptanalysts, philosophers, physicists, and biologists — and a model for gay pride — British-born Alan Turing is most well-known for his groundbreaking role in helping to successfully bring about the end of World War II. Working for the British during the early 1940s, Turing famously helped to crack and decipher the so-called “Nazi Enigma Code,” giving allied forces a window into the messages Hitler and his soldiers were transmitting. With that remarkable feat, experts have since estimated that Turing’s discovery helped bring the war to an end several years earlier than expected and may have ultimately saved millions of lives. To help mark and celebrate his contribution to the end of the war, the British government even went so far as to appoint Turing an official officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1946.
Sadly, life was never that easy for the man who is today considered the “father of the modern-day computer.” Openly gay, Turing was arrested in 1952 on suspicion of having a homosexual relationship with another man he had recently met. Turing admitted the incident was true and was charged with the crime of “gross indecency” under U.K. law. Turing was found dead in his bedroom by a housekeeper two short years later. His death was ruled the result of either suicide or perhaps accidental exposure to improperly stored laboratory chemicals.
Fortunately, U.K. Parliament has since recognized the ills of what it had done and in 2012 Turing was officially pardoned of all charges against him. Two years after that, Turing went on to become one of the most celebrated men in England when the 2014 film based on his life “The Imitation Game” became one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Together, the posthumous honors have helped to cement Turing’s legacy as one of history’s most important and influential gay men.
In his own words: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
The Flag Maker: Gilbert Baker (1951 – 2017)
A self-described “gay Betsy Ross,” artist and activist Gilbert Baker holds the honor of creating perhaps the single most defining symbol of the LGBTQ community: the multicolored rainbow flag.
Born in the tiny rural town of Chanute, Kansas, in 1951, Baker said he always felt like an outcast growing up because of his sexuality. Desperate for a change in his life, after graduating from high school he joined the army and set out to become a medic. Baker was ultimately stationed in San Francisco and when he decided to leave the military in 1972, he remained in the gay mecca, turning his energy to activism. Gradually, he met several local officials and became deeply involved in the local burgeoning gay rights movement.
It was during this period that Baker also began flexing his creative chops, experimenting with different banner and flag designs that could be used during protests. Inspired by the work he had seen Baker create in the past, in 1978 San Francisco city supervisor and gay rights leader Harvey Milk asked Baker to create a new emblem that might help to unify and represent the LGBTQ community. And that’s when inspiration struck. Baker decided to hand dye eight different strips of vibrantly colored fabric and then stitch them together by hand, creating the first-ever rainbow flag.
While Baker’s original design included eight colors, each with its own symbolic meaning (pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for spirit) the pattern was later simplified. Pink was removed because the fabric was at the time too costly while turquoise and blue were combined into a more striking royal blue.
An immediate hit with the queer community who instantly claimed the flag as their own, Baker refused to trademark his work, proudly stating that he hoped it would become a symbol of his life’s work and a lasting gift to the world — a feat the now iconic symbol has easily accomplished a million times over.
In his own words: “We needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that.”