I’ve noticed in June, flowers of all colors pop up in the most unexpected places – in between sidewalk cracks, under the awning of my favorite pizza place, peeking through the trash cans on the side of the street. They’re strong, weathering the heat, but still delicate and beautiful. It only makes sense that this is the stage that Pride Month gets to play on as we celebrate the strong, beautiful, colorful, resilient LGBTQ+ people of all identities and backgrounds who’ve made an impact on our world—impact that has, more often than not, been accompanied by deep sacrifices. This month, we celebrate the milestones and honor the histories of everyone who’s made this world safer and better for queer people, starting with these five icons.
16 years before Harvey Milk, José Sarria was the first openly gay man to run for office. A World War II veteran turned waiter and drag performer, the “The Nightingale of Montgomery Street” ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. Though he faced intense community backlash, Sarria came in 9th of 30+ candidates and showed San Francisco that the gay community would not be silent and would demand the attention and respect of lawmakers and politicians. He founded numerous organizations that fought for LGBTQ+ equality, and in 1965, he founded the Imperial Court of San Francisco (the International Court System) which is now one of the largest queer organizations in the world. Without his work, the fight for equality wouldn’t be where it is today.
When we think of organizing icons, our minds jump to Bayard Rustin, one of the architects behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. In the 1980s, he dedicated his life to advancing equality and ensuring that every person felt the freedom to be themselves. He worked tirelessly during the AIDS crisis, bringing it to the attention of the NAACP for LGBTQ+ justice. His courage to live as an openly gay Black man at a time where both identities were targets for discrimination, bigotry, and violence and to do so while advocating for the rights of others – has created a better, safer world for all of us.
In 2006, Kim Coco Iwamoto became the first openly transgender politician to hold a statewide office in the US as a member of the Hawaii Board of Education, Oahu-at-Large from 2006 to 2011.. As a strong activist for LGTBQ+ rights, Iwamoto spent her life working to better the lives of others – she continues to advocate for equality across the country and was an outspoken critic of California’s Prop 8, an anti-marriage equality bill that was eventually overturned by the State courts. Her brave leap into the political world, and her subsequent success, gave the trans community its first foothold into larger political representation and sent a bold new message to the world: that trans people not only have the right to run for office, but they also belong in the corridors of power.
Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine made history this year as the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. Formerly Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Levine spent the latter part of her career as a fierce advocate for trans health. Her confirmation to this position is an especially big win for trans youth, as someone with a personal understanding of their needs is now advocating for them at the helm, day-in, and day-out. Her strength in the face of adversity, systemic discrimination, and baseless hate inspires us, and we look forward to seeing what she accomplishes during the Biden Administration.
Just a few weeks ago, Karine Jean-Pierre made history as the first openly gay woman and second Black woman to give a White House Press briefing. After four years of hate, bigotry, and outright racism emanating from the White House, Karine is representing what America actually looks like, as a Black, gay, immigrant mother who leads with her singular wit and brilliance in the political sphere. We are so proud, and look forward to seeing her command the stage again soon – she’s a natural.
This month, we’re celebrating all those who are paving the way for the LGTBQ+ community to be their most authentic selves, free of discrimination. But we’re also celebrating those who are out to just their friends, to just their family, and those who aren’t at all. You are all beautiful, and we hope your light shines bright and colorfully this month.