Standing in 2017, when scientific development has reached wide and far and yet people’s minds are not yet ready to accept natural occurrences like homosexuality of existence of transgender people; we can only imagine how different and difficult things were back in the old times. We do not have to go back much to have a grasp of the situation.
But inspite of that, many of them struggled through the hurdles – some emerged victorious, others not so much.
However, their names and struggles remain hard to forget. Here are some LGBT people who left a mark on their own community as well as society at large.
- ALAN TURING
Alan Turing was a scientist, mathematician, cryptologist and visionary ahead of his time. The Turing Machine he created after months of dedication and hard work helped change the course of the Second World War, as the previously unbreakable Enigma code used by the Germans was decoded by his creation.
In return, the then British government convicted him on the charges of homosexuality and he was to choose between a lifetime in prison and the sentence of chemical castration. He chose the latter, but the procedure broke him and he committed suicide in 1952, two years later.
However in 2013, the great scientist was granted a royal pardon posthumously and publicly by a decree signed by the Queen.
In the following year, the movie The Imitation Game won many hearts, accolades and an Oscar for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ for an honest portrayal of the great man’s life for the common people to learn the truth. Benedict Cumberbatch did an outstanding job in the lead role.
- BARBARA GITTINGS
Barbara Gittings was a prominent American activist for the LGBT community long before the Stonewall incident called or a country-wide protest. She organized the New York division of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organisation in USA, from 1958 to 1963, edited their national magazine The Ladder from 1963–66, and was actively involved in the protest against the ban on employment of gay people by the United States government.
She was a also a part of the movement that lead to the American Psychiatric Association dropping homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973.
- JAMES BALDWIN
In a world full of racism and stigmas, it is difficult to be a person of colour or an LGBT person. American writer James Baldwin was both. Born and brought up in Greenwich, Baldwin left for France, where he began to earn a name and reputation for his work. His most famous novels include Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Tell Me How Long the Train Has Been Gone and Another Country–the last two dealing with homosexual and bisexual characters.
Even after enduring a lot of dismay and resentment from various corners of the society, his words and contribution keep on influencing the homosexual and black communities in both the continents. His quotes are often mentioned in both the LGBT movement and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
- VIRGINIA WOOLF
Born in a privileged English family in 1882, author Virginia Woolf was raised liberally by free-thinking parents. She is the author of modernist classics like Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, and also wrote pioneering feminist works – A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.
Her deep emotional bonding and sexual relationship with fellow writer Vita Sackville-West is known through many letters the two of them exchanged over time. A patient of depression in her own life, Vita turned out to be he muse as well as a huge source of encouragement for life before she committed suicide by drowning.
Her work gained much attention and widespread popularity in the feminist movement in the 1970’s. Back in 1928, she addressed undergraduate women at the ODTAA Society at Girton College, Cambridge and the Arts Society at Newnham College with two papers that eventually became A Room of One’s Own, Woolf’s best-known nonfiction works – where she says:
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
There she talked about the difficulties that female writers and women in general faced because men held disproportionate legal, social, political and economic power, as well as the future of women in education and society.
- MICHAEL DILLON
Born Laura Maud in 1915, Laurence Michael Dillon (left) is reportedly the first transgender man ever to undergo a Phalloplasty – the surgery of grafting a male genitalia from scratch onto his body. He also wrote a book entitled Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics, which is considered as the first book ever published about transgender identity and gender transitioning.
He also aided in the sex-reassignment surgery of Roberta Cowell (right), Britain’s first male-to-female transgender person to undergo gender transition. Though not yet a licensed physician, he himself performed an Orchidectomy – the stage before Vaginoplasty on Cowell, since British law made the operation illegal at that time.