The brave individuals that stood up and through their actions changed the rules, laws and opinions relating to the LGBTQ+ community across the globe
We must never forget all of the individuals that stood up against adversity and made their voices heard. Through their actions and often personal sacrifice change the world around them.
Many of the laws and rights we all enjoy, were hard-fought and these individuals often from very different cultures and very times did not let society dictate how they should live their lives and stood up for what they believe.
Each year we will highlight and focus on these ground-breaking pioneers, with this in mind, we would like to introduce you to the 2020 pioneer’s collection. Click here to discover other exceptional individuals in our 2019 Pioneers Collection
Jean-Jacques was a key player in decriminalising homosexuality under French Law in the early 1800s. Jean-Jacques was a lawyer and statesmen during the French Revolution and who later became one of the authors of the Napoleonic Code, which even today, underpins the French civil law and the laws in many other countries.
Jean-Jacques was an openly gay man, it was widely known amongst his social circles, and he, himself, never made any effort to conceal it, there are even accounts where Napoleon Bonaparte himself, referenced Jean-Jacques’ sexuality. Being a gay man during this period of history was dangerous as prior to the French Revolution, sodomy was a capital crime with a maximum penalty of death by being burnt alive at the stake. Very few people received the maximum penalty, as many were given warnings or short prison sentences; however, the threat was always present.
Though through his work, Jean-Jacques helped to decriminalised homosexuality in France, it is widely believed that this was done in error rather than by design. The Napoleonic Code was implemented after the French revolution by Napoleon Bonaparte and was a revised form of Roman Law and dealt with matters relating to civil law. Though homosexuality was left out of the Napoleonic code, Jean-Jacques was not responsible for official ending the legal prosecution of homosexuals; it was when in 1810 that the authors of the Penal Code left out references to homosexuality that it became officially decriminalised.
Whether intentional or not, Jean-Jacques contributed to the decriminalising of homosexuality in both France and many countries around the world, enabling many to have the freedoms that they enjoy today.
May you never be forgotten.
After the loss of her partner, Thea Spyer in 2009, and the Inheritance tax and legal definition of her relationship, directly contributed to Edith filing a lawsuit against the US federal government. The court case (the United States versus Windsor) would prove to become a landmark victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the USA.
Edith was from a Russian Jewish immigrant family, whose family suffered greatly in the Great Depression. Edith’s childhood was not easy, with questioning her sexuality from a young age and being subject to anti-Semitism throughout her childhood. In 1957, Edith obtained a Master’s degree in Mathematics from New York University. Shortly after her graduation, Edith joined IBM, where she worked for 16 years, working in the fields of systems architecture, operating systems and natural language processors. In 1975, Edith formed a consultancy firm specialising in software development, and her organisation helped many LGBTQ groups to become IT literate.
Edith spent many of her early years living in the closest, even marrying her brother's best friend Saul Windsor in 1951; however, their marriage only lasted one year. It was in 1963 that Edith met Thea Spyer, an Amsterdam-born psychologist, though they would meet frequently; it would take a further two years before they started officially dating. In 1967, Edith and Thea wanted to get married; however, it was not legal in the USA, and it was only until 1993 that they were able to register for a domestic partnership. In 2007, after Thea received a terminal diagnosis, the couple decided that they could no longer wait and decided to get married in Canada, even though the legal status of their relationship was not recognised in their home country.
Upon Thea's death, Edith was required to pay 363-thousand-dollars inheritance tax for assets that they both shared. At the time, the US government defined a spouse as being that of a heterosexual relationship, between a man and a woman and when officially married, upon the death of a spouse, the remaining spouse is not be required to pay any inheritance tax. In 2010, Edith filed a lawsuit against the US federal government citing that the Defence of Marriage Act, known as the DOMA, discriminated against same-sex couples. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional and was a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment. The landmark ruling enabled the legalisation of same-sex marriages across the US.
Edith was not only a trailblazer in technology; however, through her direct actions, Edith helped to change the law in the US to enable many same-sex couples to be married and recognised within the law.
May you never be forgotten.
Oscar was a brilliant playwright and poet but suffered greatly because of his personal life. Unfortunately, Oscar lived in London in the late 1800s, a time when sodomy (the term relating to the sexual act performed within gay relationships) was illegal and the punishment, if prosecuted, resulted in prison sentences and hard labour. Oscar's success and relationships made him a high profiled example of the anti-LGBT laws that existed at that time.
Oscar was born in Dublin, Ireland to a renowned and knighted ear and eye surgeon. Oscar’s early years were privileged, with Oscar attending many prestigious academic institutions. After reading classics at Trinity College, Dublin, Oscar went to Magdalen College, Oxford to read the literary greats. While at Oxford, Oscar became known for his decadence, with his long hair and his room decorated with peacock feathers and flowers. After Oxford, Oscar began working as a journalist and in 1881, published his first collection of poems. In 1888, while editor of Lady's World, he produced nearly all of his literary greats over seven years. While living in London, Oscar met and married Constance Lloyd in 1884, where they went on to have two children. Through his work as a journalist, plays and his published works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar's popularity increased as he became well-known, and his work received critical acclaim.
Like in his public life, Oscar’s personal life was also getting a lot of attention. In 1985, the Marquess of Queensbury left a calling card at Oscar’s club, the Albemarle, in which the note read “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite." Against the advice of his friends, Oscar started legal proceedings against the Marquess for libel. To avoid a jail sentence if found guilty, the Marquess built a case against Oscar; private investigators were hired to prove Oscar's association with male prostitutes, cross-dressers and homosexual brothels. Many of the people interviewed were being threatened to appear as witnesses as many were also involved in the crimes Oscar was being accused of committing. The case built by the Marquess was so compelling that he was acquitted of all charges and Oscar was forced to pay all of the Marquess’ legal fees, bankrupting Oscar.
Once the libel case was over, Oscar was immediately issued the warrant for his arrest on the charges of sodomy, and the charges were brought about due to the evidence presented in the libel case relating to Robbie Ross, to whom Oscar had a relationship. The court hearing lasted over one month, where Oscar was found guilty and sentenced to prison for two years of hard labour, which consisted of many hours of walking a treadmill and picking oakum. Once Oscar’s sentence was over, he immediately exiled himself from Britain and lived out his remaining years in France.
Oscar’s literary works are still appreciated today, with many being made into films or referenced in popular television shows. It is Oscar’s challenges to live his true life, against such high personal risks to his reputation for someone so public that makes him a true pioneer.
May you never be forgotten.
Peggie Ames was a transgender activist, who in the 1970s was transitioning at a time when not only did Peggie face discrimination for being transgender but also at a time when gender and sexual discrimination was rife. Identifying a lesbian, Peggie was often rejected by many within the lesbian feminist community, even with all this persecution, rejection and discrimination, Peggie was courageous and never gave up, making her even to this day one of the leading activists within the transgender community.
Peggie was born in 1921 and was assigned male at birth, Peggie knew from a young age that she was different and would often wear her mother and sisters’ clothes and cosmetics. For many being a crossdresser or transgender in the 1920s and 1930s was hard, which meant Peggie for many years lived as a man to fit in, dressing and living as a woman only in secret. After graduating from college, Peggie married and started a family prior to joining the Air Force during World War II. Peggie opened an insurance business after being honourably discharged from the Air Force and went on to have four children, continually living in fear of being found out by her friends and family. It was after Peggie's deeply religious wife found Peggie asleep at home in women’s clothing that Peggie decided to begin living her true life. Peggie had been at home alone and had fallen asleep not expecting to be discovered, though Peggie's wife tried to be supportive initially, ultimately her beliefs would lead her to divorce Peggie in 1973.
After the divorce, Peggie struggled financially having to start a furniture refinishing, antique restoration business, and teaching adult education courses on woodworking. Peggie lived all of her life in a rural community, communities in which she faced discrimination daily and even against all this negativity and rejection, Peggie decided to push forward with her transition. In 1974, Peggie underwent sex reassignment surgery at great expense to complete her journey. By now Peggie was advocating for transgender as well as LGBT rights, being in involved in many groups and causes, however even with her progressive work, many within her local gay and lesbian community rejected Peggie and expelled her from groups as they believed her presence created an unsafe space and that given they believe she projected a highly feminine appearance. Though Peggie would form personal relationships with people, many within her own family would never accept her for who she was. Peggie was denied access to her eight grandchildren and one of her sons, sadly took his own life, citing in a letter that Peggie was the reason he took his own life. It was years later that the remaining children made contact with Peggie; however, Peggie for the majority of post transgender life was rejected by her family.
Peggie's journey started like many transgender people during that era; however, most would learn to suppress, hide and even take their own lives for fear of discovery. Peggie knew that the road ahead would be hard, but accepted that being true to yourself is the most important thing we can do in our lives. Peggie's bravery, courage and perseverance will live on within a community that even today still face a lot of persecution.
May you never be forgotten.
Bill was an American gay-rights, HIV/AIDS activist and congressional aide who worked in San Francisco; Bill became interested in politics by learning from openly gay elected officials, such as Harvey Milk. After Harvey's assassination, Bill went onto work on the campaign to help get Harry Britt successfully elected, as Harvey Milk's successor on the San Francisco city council. Bill worked as the gay liaison working for two successive U.S Representatives and through his work helped raise awareness and funding for research into HIV/AIDS early in the 1980s.
Bill was originally from Fort Mitchell, Kentucky in the USA and after graduating from Ohio State University, he moved to San Francisco in 1970. It was in San Francisco where got into politics, learning from a number of key figures people from within the community including from one of the first openly gay elected officials in the USA, Harvey Milk. Bill was the two-time president of the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club; however, he received a lot of criticism when he ran a safe-sex campaign, where he argued members of the gay community to change their lifestyles and even called for the closure of bathhouses and saunas.
Bill work as the liaison between the San Francisco Gay Community and two successive U.S. Representatives in the early 1980s. Bill was an early advocate of concentrating on raising HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and research and through his work with the U.S Representatives helped to not only raise awareness but also funding for crucial research. Sadly, after fighting for gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention, Bill was diagnosed with AIDS in October 1984 and died two years later at just 38-years-old.
Thanks to the work of Bill and the U.S. Representatives Phillip and Sala Burton, HIV/AIDS gained awareness early into the epidemic in the 1980s, that claimed nearly a million lives throughout the decade around the world. The US representatives obtained funding into AIDS research, which has helped in advancements and medications that exist today in controlling and preventing HIV/AIDs.
May you never be forgotten.
Is there someone you feel deserves to be part of our 2021 collection. The individual does not have to be a celebrity, just someone who has worked in the past to help better and improve the laws, rights and conditions within the international LGBTQ community, if so, please get in touch.
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