George Takei made a name for himself on Star Trek as one of TV’s first Japanese-American actors, but it was his coming out as gay in 2005 that made him a hero of the LGBTQ movement. Now a longtime activist married to his husband Brad, he’s a pop culture commentator, advocate for immigration issues and recently brought the show Allegiance to Broadway.
Annise Parker served as the mayor of Houston, Texas, from 2010–2016. Only the second female mayor of the city, she was one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city. Parker is currently a professor and the CEO and President of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute, and she raises four children with her partner, Kathy, whom she married in 2014.
Sheryl Swoopes was the first woman signed to the WNBA, is a three-time MVP, has won three Olympic gold medals and played for the Houston Comets for 14 years. In 2005 she became one of the most high-profile pro athletes to come out. Now married to a man, she's proof that sexuality is fluid. Just last year she was deservedly inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Alvin Ailey, founder of his namesake American Dance Theater, was a choreographer as well as an activist. He's credited with popularizing modern dance, specifically African-American participation in 20th century concert dance. As an openly gay man he has been honored by the NAACP, received the Kennedy Center Honors and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
John Waters has many sobriquets — the Pope of Trash, the Prince of Puke — but as an openly gay director, screenwriter and author he’s long championed the idea of people being as unabashedly queer (and weird) as they like. He’s responsible for some of the most beloved cult films of the modern age and is a gatekeeper of the most subversive fringe elements of the LGBTQ community.
Bayard Rustin promoted the philosophy of nonviolent resistance during the American Civil Rights Movement, which he’d observed through his work with Gandhi in India and taught to Martin Luther King, Jr. A gay man, in 1986 he called gays “the new barometer for social change.” In 2013, Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sylvia Rivera is an activist and icon of the LGBTQ movement who along with her close friend Marsha P. Johnson (also on our list of Pride Heroes) was present at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful 1969 evening. Along with Johnson she co-founded the organization STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), dedicated to helping homeless queer youth.
Chaz Bono may have entered the public spotlight as the child of iconic pop diva Cher, but he's since made a name for himself as an actor, writer and advocate for trans rights and visibility. First coming out as a lesbian in 1995 and later as trans in 2009, Bono's very public gender transition was documented in the film Becoming Chaz, and he's been breaking down barriers ever since.
Margaret Cho is one of the world’s most outspoken bisexuals, famed for her transgressive work as a stand-up comedian and actress. She pulls no punches when critiquing societal issues of race, sexuality and politics, and that’s why we love her — she’s a shining example of the outspoken activism we should all be fighting for, especially with the present administration.
Marsha P. Johnson is one of the most prominent figures known to be present during the infamous Stonewall Uprising in 1969 New York City. She fought for gay rights (and later HIV/AIDS activism) and founded multiple gay advocacy groups alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. She also modeled for Andy Warhol and was known as the "Mayor of Christopher Street."
Sylvester was a member of queer San Francisco troupe The Cockettes before beginning his solo career as one of the world’s leading disco voices. His track “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” has become a defining song of should-funk music and the LGBTQ community. When he died in 1988, Sylvester donated all future royalties to HIV/AIDS charities.
Barney Frank held public office — first in the state of Massachusetts, then in the U.S. House of Representatives — from 1973–2013. While serving as one of the country's most prominent openly gay politicians, he was the leading Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee and was a co-sponsor of the Dodd-Frank Act, which brought sweeping reform to the finance industry.
Harry Hay was a left-wing political activist and founder of the Mattachine Society — the first gay rights group in the United States, formed in Los Angeles — and the Radical Faeries, a gay spiritual movement. Hay was one of the most influential people in the then-nascent gay rights movement, and without him the world would be a very different place.
Gertrude Stein was born in America but spent her formative years overseas in Paris, where her Paris salon gathered leading modernist figures like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henri Matisse. Though problematic in some respects, as a writer many of Stein's written works touch on lesbian sexuality, and her Q.E.D. is one of the very first coming out stories, from 1950.
Greg Louganis is an Olympic gold-medalist, and while he's been called "the greatest diver in history," that's not the only reason he's one of our Pride Heroes. He came out publicly in 1994 at the Gay Games, and came out as HIV-positive the following year. Louganis has worked tirelessly for both the LGBTQ community and for ending HIV stigma once and for all.
Sally Ride was a physicist and astronaut who famously became the first American woman (and first LGBT person) in space in 1983. She was also (and remains) the youngest U.S. astronaut to see the stars. After flying twice on the Challenger she became a professor, and while she was very private while alive, we learned of her 27-year relationship with a childhood friend upon her death.
Christine Jorgensen is widely acknowledged as the first American woman to have undergone gender confirmation surgery back in the early 1950s. After serving in the U.S. Army and later having surgery in Denmark, she returned to the States an instant celebrity. She worked as an actress and performer, but always used her platform to advocate for the larger trans community.
Frida Kahlo is an internationally renowned and groundbreaking Mexican artist, described as a surrealist or "magical realist." Off the canvas she's known for her gender nonconformity. Kahlo often dressed as a man, smoked cigars and drank tequila, and though married to fellow artist Diego Rivera, she had very open affairs with women throughout her entire life.
Langston Hughes, one of the best poets of the 20th century, broke new heights in all forms of writing, including novels, nonfiction and theater. (Though he didn't write A Raisin in the Sun, the play did take its name from his poem "Harlem.") While little is known about Hughes' sexuality, it's believed he was either homosexual or asexual, with some unpublished poems allegedly written to a male lover.
Larry Kramer is an important figure as both an author and activist. A two-time Obie Award winner (both for The Destiny of Me, which was also a Pulitzer Prize Finalist), Kramer also co-founded New York City nonprofit the Gay Men's Health Crisis and, later, ACT UP in response to seeing HIV/AIDS decimate many of his friends in the 1980s.
Janet Mock is a writer, TV host, journalist and trans activist whose bestselling memoir Redefining Realness detailed her own journey as a biracial trans woman growing up in Hawaii. She's long been an advocate for the trans community and trans women of color, working to provide the visibility that is still so slighted. Mock's second memoir, Surpassing Certainty, was released last year.
Billie Jean King is one of the world's best tennis players, having won a record number of titles. She's perhaps most famous, though, for winning the "Battle of the Sexes," a tennis match between her and Bobby Riggs (which became a film last year). She founded the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation and is a force for both queer and female representation in sports.
Keith Haring was a renowned pop artist with a distinctive graffiti-like style. He made a name for himself with his wildly iconic images like the ‘radiant baby.’ An openly gay artist in New York of the '80s, he was at the center of the city's art scene, collaborating with Grace Jones, Vivian Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, Madonna and more. Haring sadly died of complications from AIDS in 1990.
Harvey Milk was one the very first openly gay elected officials in the United States, and the first in California. Thought not openly gay until his 40s, as the City Supervisor of San Francisco he was responsible for passing an expansive gay rights ordinance. An icon of San Francisco and the LGBTQ community, he was tragically assassinated in 1978 but his legacy lives on.
Billie Holiday, also known as "Lady Day," is a famed artist who strongly influenced the jazz and pop genres during her 30-year career. A pioneer in the industry due to her vocal styling and unique phrasing, she's best known for her recording of “Strange Fruit.” Holiday was open about her bisexuality as well as relationships with some well-known actresses throughout her life.
Jayne County is a punk rock songwriter and lead singer of the influential band Wayne County and the Electric Chairs. She's often sited as an influence on many prominent rock 'n' roll singers, including David Bowie, Lou Reed and Patti Smith. County’s songs include “Man Enough to Be a Woman” and “Fuck Off," and she's widely recognized as rock’s very first openly trans performer.
Frank Ocean is one of our favorite artists, and we love how open he is about his fluid sexuality. His 2012 debut solo album Channel Orange is a modern classic, and even before that, as part of the Odd Future collective, he pushed the boundaries of not only his own music but what hip-hop can be. Ocean has since taken to releasing his music independently, to critical acclaim.
Walt Whitman, open about his fluid sexuality in his work, is considered one of the most influential poets of the American canon. One review of his most famous work, Leaves of Grass, found him "guilty of that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians," more than enough reason to honor him as one of our Pride Heroes. Many consider him the father of "free verse."
Oscar Wilde, a 19th century poet, playwright and novelist, is most well-known for his works The Picture of Dorian Grey, Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest. A famous figure of Edwardian society, he lived openly with his male lover, Lord Alfred Douglas — a truly subversive act for the time — before being convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor.
Tammy Baldwin represents the state of Wisconsin and is the very first openly gay U.S. Senator in history. She also served 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. She has said of making election history in 2013 "I didn't run to make history," but we're glad she did! On the frontlines of defending the LGBTQ community from Trump, she's one of Hornet's Pride Heroes this June.