Queer history was probably not included in your grade school curriculum—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! Part of being a good ally (that’s you, parents!) is learning about the history, hardships, and celebrations that the LGBTQ community has experienced, and remembering all the contributions made by queer folks throughout history.
The LGBTQ community is still fighting for adequate political representation—however, we have come a long way in the past few decades. This week, we are highlighting a few of the LGBTQ political trailblazers whose work and visibility paved the way for the increasing number of LGBTQ political candidates today.
1930 – 1978
Harvey Milk is perhaps the most well-recognized LGBTQ politician in U.S. history. Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. Milk first ran for office unsuccessfully in 1973, and again in 1976. During that time, he gained popularity as an outspoken leader in the community and as an activist in the gay rights movement. His campaign brought an uplifting message about the future for LGBTQ youth and held the belief that direct representation from gay politicians was needed to ensure that the LGBTQ community gained equality under the law. His election in 1977 received national attention, and during his time in office he was a champion of liberal issues and gay rights ordinances. However, after serving only 11 months, Milk was assassinated by an anti-gay former city Supervisor and colleague with whom Milk had often clashed with over gay rights issues. Harvey Milk is remembered as a martyr and leader in the gay rights movement and for breaking down barriers as one of the first openly gay politicians in U.S. history—and at a time where being gay was still widely considered to be a mental illness. His outspoken politics and unapologetic advocacy for gay rights paved the way for many LGBTQ politicians, activists, and community leaders, and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
1936 – 1996
Barbara Jordan was a lawyer, an educator, and a groundbreaking Democratic politician who achieved many milestones for representation for women and black communities throughout her career. She was first elected to office in 1966, becoming the first black woman to be elected to the Texas Senate. In 1972, she became the first woman and first black person elected by Texas to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout her time in office, Jordan’s political work focused on civil rights, the environment, and workers’ rights. She was a gifted speaker and was the first woman and first black person to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Her speech at the hearings during the impeachment process of President Nixon is widely recognized as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. Jordan was a queer woman but kept her private life to herself, as queer sexualities were widely stigmatized—in fact, it wasn’t widely known that she was queer until after her death. Nonetheless, Jordan’s legacy as a queer black female politician is an important reminder of the contributions that LGBTQ people have been making throughout history, pioneering important causes and providing representation for other marginalized identities.
1944 – present