We're well into pride month and it's time to look back on our millennia-long history (yes, millennia!) of queer-folk. You've probably heard of many of these historical figures, but what you may not have heard is that they are part of a long chronicle of LGBTQ+ symbols and stories. In fact, many of these legendary people paved the way for current-day activists and queer people alike to be able to strut their stuff proudly and openly. Read on to find out just who might have influenced the world as we know it! You may be in for quite the surprise...
1. Eleanor Roosevelt
As the wife and First Lady to Franklin Roosevelt, it's not common to think of Eleanor as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. However, Eleanor's over 3000 letters exchanged between her and her friend and mentor, Lorena Hickok, mention otherwise.
Physical intimacy wasn't completely off the table between the two. In fact, it seems as though the pair fell madly in love with one another, to the point where Hickok had to resign from her position with the Associated Press. Talk about a close bond.
2. Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo was an artist of the utmost quality. However, despite probably being abstinent for most of his life, a hotly debated topic is whether or not he had a taste for men. Despite painting the alluring Mona Lisa, it seems he might have had a bigger interest in his assistant, Salai, as he modeled for Da Vinci quite often.
However, after an arrest relating to possible same-sex relations, he was said to have stopped seeing anyone altogether. We may never know the truth behind Leonardo Da Vinci's love life, but a man of his caliber should be celebrated for embracing his true self!
3. The Goddess Athena
A symbol of female strength and beauty, and the Goddess of wisdom and warcraft, Athena was believed to be a protector for cities across Greece, especially Athen, for which she is named. She believed in purity through virginity, and never once laid in bed with any other being.
Having thought to have been asexual, Athena never once fell in love either, as her beliefs led her to hold her chastity in high regard. As well as her strong will and control over her desires, Athena represents female empowerment and embodies a part of queer culture not often portrayed in history.
4. Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was not only a talented writer and important activist, but she was also incredibly outspoken about feminism and social justice. As a woman and a lesbian, she would have a huge role to play in furthering the rights of the American people.
If you happen to have any of her work laying around, consider yourself lucky. Her poems and other writings have powerful emotions behind them, and it's a privilege to be able to gain wisdom from such a strong advocate.
5. Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin was a civil rights activist, as well as often working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help strengthen his leadership and teach him nonviolence. As criticism mounted toward his sexual orientation, he also became a public advocate for gay rights.
Being openly gay and in an interracial relationship in his time was no easy feat. It takes an incredible amount of dedication to stand up for the rights of people in a world that doesn't them as equal. But Rustin did it all, and we're happy to have had such an incredible ally in such trying times.
6. Billie Holiday
If you've never listened to Billie Holiday's music, you don't know what you're missing out on. This angelic singer's music was like poetry, and she stood out amongst her peers. Her difficult childhood shaped her music and inspired many a listener.
Despite all her hardships, she was still confident enough to be openly bisexual, and that's just as powerful as the music she sang. It's not often you come across someone so talented. We hope her music continues to move mountains and bring people closer together.
7. Amy Winehouse
As one of the most influential singers of our time, it's hard to look past the icon that is Amy Winehouse. Though she passed on too soon, her music and the person she embodied live on forever. After her death, her song Back to Black temporarily became the UK's best-selling album of all time.
She was said to have been very open about her bisexuality, stating that, "being with a woman is very satisfying". While we miss her dearly, she certainly will not be forgotten any time soon.
8. Emily Dickinson
One of the quintessential poets of the 19th century (along with Walt Whitman), Emily lived a very introverted and hermatic life. It wasn't until her death that most of her poems were found, and those that had been published beforehand were typically anonymous.
While it's hard to say the exact scope of her queerness due to this homebound lifestyle, she's generally regarded as potentially bisexual. Now, over a hundred years since her death, Emily is touted as a major icon in both the poetry scene and the LGBTQ+ community.
9. Alan Turing
Yes, that Alan Turing, famed for his invention of the Turing machine. A genius in his time, the late Turing was also well known for being openly gay, though, that may not have necessarily been any fault of his own.
In 1952, he was prosecuted for committing same-sex acts, something that was illegal in the UK back then. While this would eventually indirectly lead to his death, he would continue to live on in the history books for his work in computational sciences.
10. Cary Grant
Named the second greatest male star of Golden Age Hollywood cinema by The American Film Institute, Cary Grant was a well-renowned actor. He was even awarded an Honorary Oscar by Frank Sinatra, his friend, at the 42nd Academy Awards.
As well as being second to none, bar from Humphrey Bogart, he was also a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. He even liked to be called gay, according to his daughter. We don't see why not. More power to him!
11. Greta Garbo
As an actress, Greta was known for her various portrayals of tragic characters. Despite this (or potentially in light of this), she was at one point considered the most beautiful woman in the world.
After retiring, she seemed to want to live a private life. Apparently, according to the New York Times, she even called homosexual affairs "exciting secrets". If that isn't a woman who loves being queer, we don't know what is.
As the father to many a greek god, you may not initially think that Zeus had a thing for guys. however, he famously took Ganymede as a cupbearer, and in this painting he's depicted kissing the young man.
Interestingly enough, this story made way for the Greeks' habit of taking young men as suiters. Unfortunately, same-sex relationships wouldn't last forever, and the stigmas that came along with it lasted for centuries.
13. Langston Hughes
Ah, yes. Another queer poet. Iconic nonetheless, Hughes was thought to have hidden gay codes within his poetry. In fact, he was apparently inspired by Walt Whitman who was supposedly doing the same.
Now, we don't exactly know what the connection is between poetry and queerness, but we do know it's a darn creative way to spread the message. Decoding these "homosexual codes" also sounds like a great way to spend some time reading poetry. It's like reading a mystery, too!
14. George Takei
If you've seen Star Trek, you know exactly who this guy is. Famous for his role as Hikari Sulu, he's also been parodied and memed in various media including Family Guy. He's also a gay icon of sorts.
If you haven't yet watched Star Trek, purchase a streaming subscription, and get on that right away. It's not just famous for its incredible plot, but it also has a range of characters who also make strides in their own cultural backgrounds.
15. Lorraine Hansberry
Known for her groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun (if you haven't read it, please do), Hansberry is a self-proclaimed "heterosexually-married lesbian". Sound complicated? Well, get this: she wrote "my sexuality" on a personal list of her likes and dislikes.
In 1959, her play became both the first Broadway play written by a black woman as well as the first to be directed by a black director. And all that time she was also keeping her homosexuality discreet so as to not ruin her reputation. Her ability to make it as far as she did makes her a hero in our book.
16. Oscar Wilde
Another gay poet and another trial for being so. Wilde was best known for his plays and epigrams. He was charged for consenting to acts of homosexuality in what was one of the "first celebrity trials". Geez, the 20th century United Kingdom has zero chill.
While he may have been convicted for one of nature's fundamental experiences, he was certainly popular in his time. In fact, that makes it all the more tragic that he succumbed to the pressures of pre-modern society.
17. Malcolm X
Now this one is a complete shocker. After being sentenced to 10 years in prison, he converted to Islam and became a well-respected leader of the Nation of Islam. The man we all know as one of America's most notable human rights activists, Malcolm X's sexuality was never opened up publicly.
Malcolm X met his wife in 1955 at one of his speaking events and soon after they began dating. became a couple. Malcolm followed strict cultural norms while they dated, never going anywhere they'd be alone, opting instead to take her to dinner parties and other public events. So it makes sense that no one ever questioned his sexuality.
18. Malcolm X LGBTQ+
You might be wondering what it is exactly that makes people think he was bisexual. Well, as it turns out, Malcolm X was noticeably sexually active in his youth with other men. Bruce Perry's biography on him dissected many accounts and over 400 interviews on Malcolm, some claiming he mentioned his sexual involvement with boss William Paul Lennon for whom he was a butler.
Some of his friends and acquaintances also reported that Malcolm worked as a sex worker in his late teens and early twenties, where he boasted about "earning money servicing queers". We honestly never saw that coming, but find this revelation nonetheless fascinating.
19. Obi-Wan Kenobi (A.K.A Sir Alec Guinness)
One of the supporting actors of the original Star Wars trilogy, Sir Alec Guinness has an apparent "gay side" to him. Coincidentally, he was also arrested for a homosexual act in the U.K. pre-1950, like a few others on this list. Rumor has it he avoided being charged by providing a fake name to the court.
His CV didn't just include the Star Wars original trilogy, however. He was also in many other great productions such as Oliver Twist and The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for best actor.
20. Sally Ride
Not only was she the first American woman to travel to outer space, but she's queer, too? It must be too good to be true. A true star (pun intended) in her day, Sally is the earliest astronaut to be recognized as LGBTQ+.
Unfortunately, this news wouldn't become known until her death in 2012, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this woman made strides and headlines. The future of spaceflight is always changing, and you, Sally, helped make it happen.
21. Lana and Lilly Wachowski
These sisters have changed the world of cinema in more ways than one, but you probably didn't know that they are both a part of the trans community. Known for writing and/or directing such works as The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Jupiter Ascending, these two are legendary artists.
The movies they have worked on are internationally renowned and have won numerous awards. The world and pop culture would be a completely different place if they hadn't decided to work together, and it's amazing that we have such talented queer folk to continue to change our world. Keep up the good work!
22. George Michael
We don't know if you have ever heard of him, but everyone and their mother has heard his song Careless Whisper, whether or not by name. The song has been memed and memed some more, and we're sure someone out there uses this on a date of their own.
Honestly, the song has always been used to set the mood. But knowing that he is gay really helps to know that the song may have had everybody--and their mother--in mind. Who doesn't like a good Careless Whisper moment?
23. Virginia Woolf
Woolf is considered to be one of the most important authors of modernist literature in the 20th century. She is especially known for her novels A Room of One's Own, Mrs. Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse.
Although she was married, she had carried on some close relationships with several women. Her lover, Vita Sackville-West, is said to be the inspiration for the protagonist in her novel Orlando.
24. Alexander The Great
We've all heard of him, Alexander the Great, the king of the Kingdom of Macedon in Greece. He is also known to be very promiscuous, as he was said to have brought concubines to bed every night as well. But did you know he was sexually active with more than just women?
According to some ancient sources, he was also engaged in relations with a eunuch named Bagoas, who was "in the very flower of boyhood, with whom Darius was intimate and with whom Alexander would later be intimate". If that's not enough concrete evidence, we don't know what is.
25. Drew Barrymore
Originally cast as the younger sister of the protagonist in E.T., Gerite, Drew Barrymore made headlines as a child actress and continued to make a name for herself in the acting scene. As the co-star of The Santa Clarita Diet, she continues to surprise fans with her range of talents.
She's also openly bisexual, stating that she believes two women together are just as beautiful as a man and a woman. Right on, Drew! It's pleasing to see such an iconic actress helping shape the world into a better place.
26. Walt Whitman
Whitman was known as the father of free verse, as he was one of the most influential poets in America. His work was controversial, however, as it was too obscene due to its overt sensuality.
What's more is, due to his presumed homosexuality, his life came under scrutiny. He had an intimate bond with Peter Doyle, and another possible relationship with Bill Duckett. When asked if his poems were homosexual in nature, he decided not to respond. We like to think he's an early pioneer of gay culture.
Another great artist from the Rennaisance, Michelangelo was not known to have had any physical relationships. However, there has been speculation about his sexuality, as his poetry leaves some breadcrumbs behind.
The homoerotic nature of his poetry was so unsettling for the public that it led his grandnephew to change the gender pronouns throughout his work, only to be restored after the original work was retranslated. LGBTQ+ culture is clearly deeply rooted in our history, and we need to embrace it more often.
28. Clive Barker
Even if you've never heard of Clive Barker, you've probably heard of his monster from Hell, Pinhead. But did you know that this legendary horror writer is also a part of the esteemed LGBTQ+ community?
Barker's sexual orientation became well-known in 1996 when he wrote his book, Sacrament, the first of his novels to feature a gay protagonist. While his content may be a little mature for some audiences, we hope he can continue to provide more satisfying queer content!
29. Joan Crawford
While it's not entirely clear where this iconic Holywood actress's sexuality stands, it's become somewhat of a mystery, and word has it she may have been bisexual. She's been said to have love affairs with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe, and Martha Raye, despite being known as a maneater.
Regardless, she's become quite the gay icon after her role in Mommy Dearest. There's nothing more brooding than a full face mask, bathrobe, and a brandished wire hanger. No. More. Wire. Hangers!!
30. Elton John
Look, you may already know this if you're from an earlier generation, but for all you youngin's out there, this is Elton John, one of the most famous openly gay musical artists of all time. If you can't remember his music, think Rocketman.
As one of the best-selling artists of all time, it's important to have basic knowledge of who he is. He also composed many of the songs for Disney's Lion King, so it's hard to imagine a world without him.
We can't talk about queer Greek Gods without talking about this one. The child of Hermes and Aphrodite, of whom their name is a portmanteau of, Hermaphroditus was said to have come into being as they are now when a female spirit named Salmacis fell in love and wished to be united as one.
As one of the Erotes, Hermaphroditus represents love and sexual intercourse. A symbol of any gender and biological sex, they truly embody life as a whole and may even prove theirs more to life than what gender you identify with.
32. Tennessee Williams
Most well known for his drama A Streetcar Named Desire, this Hall of Fame inductee lived in a time where his homosexuality and promiscuity would be considered a work of evil. Yet he wouldn't be swayed into fitting himself into the box of early American society
Despite some of the controversy surrounding his life, his play, a critique on the restrictions placed on women at the time, won a Pulitzer prize in 1948. For his bravery and willingness to push the boundaries on societal norms, he certainly deserved it.
Fergie is another singer who made headlines for something unpopular (think 2018's NBA all-stars game). Unlike Rebecca, however, she was already famous prior to that awkward display of singing talents.
Her performance of the national anthem might have distracted you from the fact that she, too, is a wonderful addition to the LGBTQ+ community. All jokes aside, Fergie's been killing it since before she was a solo artist and we know she'll kill it again (just don't kill our ears please).
34. Wanda Sykes
Those last couple of jokes were to prepare you for the funniest gal on this list (and probably the world) Wanda Sykes. Though having previously been married to record producer Dave Hall, Wanda now lives openly as a loud and proud lesbian woman.
Wanda typically does stand-up comedy acts, though she has made quite a few appearances on popular shows, such as Futurama and The Simpsons. If you haven't heard of her before, she's a must-see--we can't stop laughing whenever we watch her routines.
35. Marlon Brando
Speaking of A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando is a gay actor who played the character Stanley Kowalski, a role he reprised from his Broadway role of the play. He is also well known for his portrayal of Vito Corleone, or the "Don", in The Godfather. According to author William J. Mann, he was "not a guilt-ridden homosexual but utterly at ease with sleeping with men or women".
As an actor, he was nominated for many awards, including an Oscar which he refused to accept as he was protesting Hollywoods image of Native Americans. He instead allowed Native American Actress Sacheen Littlefeather to attend in his place. He is not only a great actor, but a true rol model as well.
36. Frida Kahlo
Arguably one of the 20th century's most influential artists, especially in Mexico, Frida Kahlo was never shy about sexuality and its importance. She was bisexual and both she and her husband often had extramarital affairs.
Crippeled as a child by polio, she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. However, a bus accident caused her to go back to her childhood love of art. Her artwork was unapologetic and showed that there was more to her than just beauty. It seems fated that she returned to the world of art, despite how cruel the cause.
37. Chavela Vargus
Chavela Vargas was a Costa Rica-born Mexican singer well known for her renditions of Mexican rancheras. She was awarded a Latin Grammy by The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences in 2007.
Though she only came out officially in 2002 at the age of 81, her fans had known for a long time that she was a lesbian. Her sexuality was a kind of open secret, as she had been thought to be having affairs with Frida Kahlo.
The fifth emperor of Rome, it's unclear whether he was truly popular or not, as history recalls him being both held in high regard, but also not such a great emperor. He also killed his mother for unknown reasons, but that's a story for another day.
In 64 A.D. he married Pythagoras (a freedman) since same-sex relations were (fortunately) not illegal. He also had a bunch of wives, but that's beside the point. We're here for the queer folk!
39. Christian Dior
Does this man need an introduction? Originally born in France, Christian Dior was a fashion designer and founder of one of the top fashion houses in the world. His fashion is known internationally and is sold all around the world. It is also the inspiration for a popular Pop Smoke song.
Queer culture and fashion seem to go hand-in-hand, and Christian Dior is no exception. He was nominated on three separate occasions for best costume design. Although his sexuality is only speculation, he writes in his autobiography that he and Pierre Colle became "intimate friends, for we both placed the same high value on friendship.
40. Rebecca Black
Famously known for her song Friday, Rebecca Black made headlines as one of the worst songs ever made. her song was, however, viral for months, being played by radio stations and people on the street alike. It's one of those "it's so bad, it's good" kind of things. On April 3rd, 2020, Rebecca came out as queer on an episode of the Dating Straight podcast.
Despite being out of the mainstream for a decade, she recently announced a new project "Rebecca Black Was Here" and has been steadily releasing new music in 2021. We hope she continues to grow and contribute to the queer community through her music.
3We hope you liked this collection of historical queer people. Whether or not you knew some of them, it's always interesting to see who in history might be a part of queer culture. After all, the world keeps progressing and these are the people who help make that happen. Hopefully soon we will live in a world where no one has to hide who they are anymore, and it won't be a shock to find out these things. As the Beatles say, let it be!