Historical Figures You Might Not Know Are LGBTQ+

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Historical views of Pride Month often focus on influential figures in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. But, there are many LGBTQ+ individuals throughout history who are known primarily for other activities. 

Here are a few brief biographies of my personal favorite historical figures. Let us know who else you would add to this list in celebrating Pride this June!

Emily Dickinson is undoubtedly one of the greatest poets in the history of the genre. She’s also often portrayed in popular culture as a shut-in, writing her iconic poetry alone. But, recent scholars have worked to uncover her lasting relationship with her sister-in-law and lifetime friend Susan Gilbert. You can read portions of the letters between these two women and potential lovers here

Sally Ride, physicist and astronaut, holds many firsts in the realm of space travel. After deciding to become an astronaut while eating scrambled eggs, Ride became the first female capsule communicator, the first woman on a shuttle crew, the first American woman to fly in space, and the youngest American in space. Ride’s career also included co-founding Sally Ride Science to encourage girls to study STEM. 

The world learned after Ride’s death that she was also the first LGBTQ+ individual to fly in space. Ride had been in a relationship with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, whom she met playing tennis as a girl in California, for 27 years before Ride’s death in 2012. 

Angela Davis comes up often in discussions of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and rightfully so. Davis also continues to be an educator and civil rights activist, and her vast work ranges from supporting three incarcerated individuals of Soledad Prison to writing groundbreaking books like her 2003 work Are Prisons Obsolete? Davis is also a queer woman, and the GLBT Historical Society showcased an exhibition, Angela Davis: Outspoken, in 2018, highlighting Davis as an influential queer figure. 

Marlene Dietrich was a bisexual actress most famous for her film and music career in the 1930s and 1940s. Her work includes roles in Morocco (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932). This German-born performer also became an American citizen in 1939, at the beginning of World War II, and conducted openly anti-fascist humanitarian work. Dietrich is well known too as a style icon famous for her androgynous outfits, including the “Dietrich silhouette.”