Perplexed by a rejection to be a member of the National Honor Society for “homosexual inclinations,” psychiatrist Barbara Gittings took it upon herself to begin psychoanalyzing herself about what it meant to be a lesbian woman in 1950s America.
Barbara Gittings would then approach the “Daughters of Bilitis,” the only lesbian organization and support group in the United States. Her involvement with the group would put her at the forefront of their New York division. Gittings’s psychiatric skills allowed her to challenge the mainstream convention of homosexuality being defined as a mental disorder, and as a result, it was retracted in the medical literature.
"I am a homosexual.” These words were emblazoned on the cover of TIME magazine, along with Leonard Matlovich’s face. The outspoken Leonard Matlovich took the courageous step of outing himself while an active member of the United States Air Force.
The American military discriminated against LGBTQ+ at the time. Matlovich, a highly decorated member, was offered to sign a contract to “never practice homosexuality again” to remain a service member. Matlovich refused and was given an honorable discharge. Matlovich passed away in 1988, and his tombstone reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
School teacher Jeanne Manford found herself at the forefront of the gay rights movement in the 1970s after her gay son was attacked by bigots. Manford went on to approach radio and news stations to highlight the passivity of police in dealing with hate crimes against LGBTQ+ folk. From her activism, Manford would go on to establish “PFLAG”: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
The movement was created to help facilitate communication between heterosexual and gay family members. Manford was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for her groundbreaking efforts.
Non-binary South African-born artist Zanele Muholi began documenting the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA+ youth in South Africa in the early 2000s. Muholi describes themself as a visual activist instead of just simply an artist. Muholi brings focus to the hate crimes and stigma that LGBTQIA+ people face in South Africa and tackles issues such as assault and HIV.
As of 2021, Muholi has extended their efforts into rural communities, offering workshops to provide photography and painting skills to underprivileged youth.
Tab Hunter was a forerunner of the Hollywood heartthrob stereotype. The blonde, green-eyed New York native lived up to being, in his own words, “swoon-bait.” The actor had no doubts about his sexuality as a gay man, but, in 1950s America, that was a death knell for any acting career aspirations.
The studios had press houses write false articles about Hunter’s supposed liaisons with other actresses to bolster his macho, heterosexual image. Hunter finally addressed his sexuality in his 2005 autobiography, where he revealed he was not only gay but had been married to his husband for almost three decades!