Lesbians, whether out or forced into the closet during their lifetimes, have been at the heart of history since the time of Sappho – and a full list of their achievements could go on for days. So this Lesbian Visibility Day, we’ve highlighted just a few of the pioneers who’ve changed the world for queer women and for us all.
NASA astronaut Sally Ride proved that no barriers of sexism or discrimination, on this planet or beyond, can stop powerful women from shaping history. On top of being the first woman in space, she established NASA’s Office of Exploration and served as its first director.
Despite enjoying 27 years with her partner Tammy O’Shaughnessy, Ride was never able to come out publicly during her lifetime. Instead, she was finally outed in an obituary after her death in 2012 – becoming an icon to this day for all women striving for equality in male-dominated professions.
Pamela K Chen
Chen became the first openly gay Asian-American judge to serve federally when she was elected by Barack Obama in 2012. She has received the Susan B Anthony Award and the US Department of Justice Director’s Award for her work to combat human trafficking.
We couldn’t celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day without mentioning the woman who’s given the worldwide lesbian community more visibility than ever before. DeGeneres changed the entertainment industry forever when, having become one of America’s favourite comedians as star of the sitcom Ellen, she came out as a lesbian during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Despite initially facing discrimination from viewers and advertisers, she has powered on to become a voice for queer women everywhere. Her talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show has won 59 Daytime Emmy Awards as of 2017.
Jordan, the first lesbian and Southern African-American to be elected as a congresswoman for the US House of Representatives, used her time in Congress to advocate for women’s rights, support the Equal Rights Amendment and co-sponsor a bill that would have granted housewives Social Security benefits for their work in the home. She met her partner of 20 years, Nancy Earl, during a 1960’s camping trip.
Jordan continued to break barriers even in death, becoming the first African-American to be buried alongside other governors, senators and congressmen in the Texas State Cemetery.
Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, has changed this country’s history in more ways than one. She has been in turn the first openly lesbian member of the Oireachtas, the first openly lesbian TD, and Ireland’s first Minister to have been openly gay at the time of appointment to Cabinet.
In Zappone and Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners (2006), she and her partner Ann Louise Gilligan sought recognition in the High Court for their Canadian marriage – paving the way for marriage equality in this country.
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