March marks Women’s History Month, an annual observance of the many contributions made by women throughout history.
Whether they’re contributions in the world of politics, academia, society, arts and entertainment, culture, education, or economics, women have been responsible for so many tremendous achievements around the globe. To celebrate Women’s History Month, our team at the Campaign for Southern Equality has brainstormed some of the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer heroes who we admire. Take a look at the picks!
Chosen by CSE Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara
“This Women’s History Month, I’m celebrating Pauli Murray, who was an attorney, an Episcopal priest, strategist, and author. Born in 1910, Murray was a black, queer woman who grew up in North Carolina and was involved in civil rights work as early as 1938, when she led a campaign to integrate the University of North Carolina. She was later involved in forming the Congress on Racial Equality, which became a leading organization in the civil rights movement. Her careers in both law and ministry was one of shattering barriers and being a prophetic voice and strategist. I admire so much about her – her fierce commitment to justice, her courage and creativity. Murray identified as female and wrote of her life using female pronouns, a practice which historians continue in documenting her life. She also explored questions of gender and her own gender identity in her life and writing – had she lived in our times, one hopes she would have had the freedom to fully explore and answer these questions. You can learn more about Pauli Murray’s life and legacy at the Pauli Murray Project and in this profile.”
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Chosen by Britney Nesbit, Southern Equality Fund Coordinator
“Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a transgender woman with a long career as an activist and community leader. She has worked vociferously for equality and dignity for transgender people, with a special focus on issues facing transgender women of color. Miss Major, as she is often called, was a leader back in the 1960s during the Stonewall Uprising, usually seen as the first major moment in modern queer history in the United States. She was also incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility and became more politically involved because of that experience. Miss Major founded and served as Executive Director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), which supports incarcerated or formerly incarcerated trans, nonbinary, intersex and queer people. I really appreciate and admire Miss Major’s unapologetic attitude and her commitment to movement. Even now at the wise age of 78 and in retirement, she agreed to move from San Francisco to provide guidance and support to trans work in Arkansas! Thank you Miss Major, for all you have done and continue to do!”
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin
Chosen by Adam Polaski, Communications Director
“This Women’s History Month I’m celebrating Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who made such a colossal impact on the movement for LGBTQ dignity and equality. In the 1950s gay men were organizing and coming together in increasingly public ways, and yet Lyon and Martin, who were a couple, didn’t know any other lesbian women. That’s why they created a social organization that later became a more political group, the Daughters of Bilitis. Both women were journalists, and as a journalism student myself in college, I studied the activist/informational publication they worked on together, The Ladder, one of the first nationally distributed LGBTQ publications in the country. I admire the women for their tenacity, their beautiful, loving relationship, their activism, and their tireless work to ensure that women were not pushed aside by men in the LGBTQ movement. Sadly, Martin passed away in 2008, but her entire life – and Lyon’s life, too, even to this day – was devoted to making the world a better place for LGBTQ people.”
Eleanora Fagan aka Billie Holiday
Chosen by Holiday Simmons, Resident in Resilience and Healing
“Fagan, who was best known publicly as Billie Holiday, was a jazz singer with a long career of making music. She had a history of dating both men and women, allegedly even having a relationship with artist Frida Kahlo. Holiday’s nickname is “Lady Day,” a name from her longtime friend Lester Young, with whom she worked on music. Billie Holiday’s influence on jazz and other American music is far-reaching. Some of her most famous work is centered on love, loss, and relationships. And several of her songs, including “Strange Fruit,” have been credited with shining a spotlight on and sparking conversations about the importance of civil rights for people of color. Holiday passed away in 1959 but her music is still widely listened to.”
Everyday LGBTQ Women
Chosen by Craig White, Supportive Schools Coordinator
“I want to recognize the LGBTQ women in every town’s history and every family tree. When I do a training in a rural county, I remind folks that there are LGBTQ people in every Southern community – and there always have been. Very rarely could they live openly, so today we can only imagine their full stories, and only guess at who they were: the root doctor / midwife who raised every child in town like they were her own; the great-great-aunt ‘who lived back in the holler and dressed and worked just like a man;’ the ‘spinster sisters’ who helped out their neighbors so much that nobody made it their business to ask if they were really sisters or not; and not least, the women who married men because it was the only social and economic option for their survival. We can only guess at who you were and what your lives were like, and often our guesses will be wrong, but even so: We see you. We remember.”