Celebrating LGBTQI+ Trailblazers During Pride Month

Each year, Pride Month is celebrated throughout the month of June to honor the LGBTQI+ community and the leaders who have helped pave the way for greater equity and inclusion. The 2024 Pride Month theme of “Reflect. Empower. Unite” encourages remembering past challenges while also inspiring advocates to create a better, brighter future. This theme prompted me to curate a list of influential LGBTQI+ leaders, changemakers, and trailblazers who are also talented creators—ranging from authors and actors to musicians and photographers (and more)—who have fostered a deeper understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community.

Check out the creators below to learn about a few of the incredible leaders and artists who have made a tremendous difference, both creatively and through advocacy, for the LGBTQI+ community and beyond.

Lola Flash: Photographer and Visual Artist

Lola Flash is a celebrated American photographer based in New York whose work often focuses on social, feminist, and LGBTQI+ issues. Having worked at the forefront of genderqueer visual politics for three decades, Flash’s work “challenges the stereotypes,” as well as the gender, sexual, and racial preconceptions in today’s world. Their art and activism became intertwined at an early age, fueling “a lifelong commitment to visibility and preservation…of LGBTQIA+ [peoples] and its communities.” Flash’s work continues to be showcased around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. As an active participant in ACT UP during the time of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, Flash was featured in the 1989 “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” poster. Today, Flash is a proud member of the Kamoinge Collective, a group that works to “honor, document, and preserve the history and culture of the African Diaspora with integrity andinsight for humanity through the lens of Black Photographers.”

Christian Siriano: Fashion Designer

Whether you remember Christian Siriano’s spiky haircut or his over-the-top colorful garments, he certainly had a memorable impact on fans of the hit TV show, “Project Runway.” Today, Siriano remains the show’s youngest winner, having earned his stripes during season four in 2007 at just 21 years old. Siriano started his own fashion label soon after his win and is now a seasoned women’s clothing designer, offering his “custom couture experience” to the “who’s who” of Hollywood and New York City. Beyond his work in the fashion industry, Siriano is also an advocate for the LGBTQI+ community, standing tall as a proud Stonewall Uprising Ambassador. As an ambassador and advocate, Siriano continues to help others to remember and better understand the event that marks the anniversary of the infamous New York City uprising.

Ellen DeGeneres: Comedian, Actress, Television Host

Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay in 1997 on her sitcom “Ellen,” marking a pivotal turning point in her life and career by effectively bringing lesbianism to entertainment TV. Since then, DeGeneres has been a key advocate for LGBTQI+ rights. During her more recent talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she used her platform to promote acceptance, highlight LGBTQI+ issues, and support numerous charitable causes, including championing orphans, gay and lesbian rights, women’s rights, abuse victims, and those suffering from AIDS and HIV.

Ricky Martin: Singer and Songwriter

Known worldwide as the “Livin’ La Vida Loca” singer, Ricky Martin has recorded ten studio albums, most of them in Spanish, English, Italian, and Portuguese. Martin came out as being gay in 2010 when he ultimately decided living authentically was far more important than staying silent about his sexual orientation. Since coming out, Martin has actively supported LGBTQI+ rights and established his own philanthropic organization, The Ricky Martin Foundation, to advocate for a number of causes, including LGBTQI+ rights, children’s well-being, and human rights.

Kate McKinnon: Comedian and Actor

Kate McKinnon, who is best known for her work on the TV sketch comedy show, “Saturday Night Live,” is an openly gay comedian and actor who uses her platform to support LGBTQI+ rights and visibility. Her work often includes LGBTQI+ characters and themes, contributing to a greater representation in comedy and entertainment. In March 2022, McKinnon appeared on the show’s Weekend Update segment, using her comedic chops as she spoke out about the homophobic nature of legislation in Florida titled the Don’t Say Gay bill that “banned any classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Billy Porter: Actor and Singer

Billy Porter is known for being an award-winning actor and singer, who is also an outspoken advocate for LGBTQI+ visibility and empowerment. Porter made history as the first openly gay Black man to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role in “Pose,” a groundbreaking production that explores the ballroom culture of the LGBTQI+ community. But that’s not his only accolade, as Porter is also a Grammy, Emmy, and two-time Tony Award winner. In 2024, Porter will receive the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, “recognizing his dedication as an activist and spokesperson for the LGBTQI+ communities, including his work for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundationand the Entertainment Community Fund, among others.” And in March of 2024, Porter hosted the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song tribute concert during which Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting accomplishments were celebrated by the Library of Congress.

James Baldwin: Writer and Early Advocate

An influential American writer and social critic who lived from 1924 to 1987, James Baldwin continues to be known for works such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “The Fire Next Time.” Although Baldwin resisted labels about his own sexuality, he wrote extensively about relationships between two men and was an early advocate for trans and non-binary identities during a time that preceded the gay rights movement. Toward the end of Baldwin’s life, he boldly advocated for gender equality, androgyny, and gay relationships in works such as “Here Be Dragons,” which was published in 1985; and he frequently crossed the lines of color and nationality in his writing. Throughout his life, Baldwin helped to raise public awareness on racial and sexual oppression including portrayals of his own personal experiences as a Black man in America. Seemingly to sum up many of his experiences and views, Baldwin is famously known for having said, “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.”

Sam Smith: Singer and Songwriter

Sam Smith rose to fame with their soulful voice and hit songs like “Stay with Me” and “Writing’s on the Wall.” In 2014, they came out as gay, and in 2019, as non-binary and genderqueer, using the pronouns they/them. Since then, Smith has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and has used their platform to raise awareness about the community’s issues. They have also been open about their struggles with body image and mental health, using their music to spread messages of self-love and acceptance.

All of the creators chronicled here have not only succeeded in their chosen creative fields by working diligently and combatting the challenges faced; they have also helped those around them to see the world from a more open-minded perspective. In addition to making the world a brighter place through their art, they have also made it a more inclusive environment through their commitment to LGBTQI+ advocacy by expressing their diverse perspectives and stories.

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