Unsung LGBTQ+ Activists
With Pride season almost over we wanted to highlight the many unsung leading pioneers and activists all over the world who have fought for LGBTQ+ equality and rights. Sadly, with time, some of these activists have been relegated to the footnotes of history whilst others have become almost household names within the community. We aim to correct that a bit by introducing five lesser known LGBTQ+ activists.
Alice Nkom is a lawyer from Cameroon who has been a pioneer in her own right by being the first black woman called to the bar in Cameroon in 1969 but has consistently fought against police methods to entrap members of the LGBTQ+ community in a country where same sex activity has been illegal since 1972, carries a five year jail term and where vigilante lynchings are common even among those who are just ‘accused’ of being LGBTQ+. Furthermore Alice identifies as heterosexual and has been threatened by the Cameroon government for her work, nonetheless, Alice continues to be a great friend for a community facing legal and societal oppression.
Our next unsung activist is Arsham Pashi who is an Iranian man who initially worked within the hidden LGBTQ+ community in Iran, a country where same sex relationships have carried the death penalty since the 1979 revolution. Pashi worked during the early days of the internet communicating with and supporting gay men in Iran as well as working with doctors to provide HIV testing for the LGBTQ+ community. However in 2005, he was tipped off that the Iranian police were looking for him which resulted in his exile first to Turkey and later Canada. This has not stopped Pashi’s work however as he established the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees now called the International Railroad for Queer Refugees; an organisation that helps refugees flee states in the Middle East where the LGBTQ+ community is legally oppressed and helps poverty until they are able to transit to a safe country.
Paul Patrick was a leading gay rights activist in the UK from him coming out in 1969 only two years after the decriminalisation of homosexual sex acts in England until his death in 2008. Paul was the first openly gay man to qualify and become a teacher and not be removed from his post. During his teaching career he taught primarily as a drama teacher in the Lewisham area of London. In addition, he founded the Gay Teachers Union in 1974 and would later serve as a union official for the National Union of Teachers in Lancashire.
Stephen Donaldson was an American bisexual activist who in 1967 established the first LGBTQ+ university society in the United States initially called the Student Homophile League and now called the Columbia Queer Alliance. Stephen was also able to assist in establishing a network of over 150 gay student groups at universities and colleges across the U.S. during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Furthermore, Stephen fought against his general discharge from the Navy after his bisexual activities came to light ultimately being successful in 1977 when his discharge was upgraded to a honourable discharge. Finally Stephen was a strong activist against prison rape after being a victim during a prison sentence in 1973.
Kanako Otsuji is a Japanese lesbian politician currently serving in the House of Representatives and was the first openly gay person elected to serve in the Japanese Diet when served in the House of Councillors in 2013. Kanako was subject of a film premiered at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival called Kanako: Challenging the System.
While same-sex activity has been legal in Japan since 1880 and a strong majority of Japanese people favour the legalisation of same-sex marriage, currently same-sex marriage is not permitted under the Japanese legal system nor are same-sex marriages performed overseas recognised in Japan. In addition, there is no anti-discrimination legislation pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity which makes it very difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals to pursue legal recourse in the event of discrimination either in employment or public services.
We hope you have learned a little bit more about these LGBTQ+ activists that have gone under the radar and we encourage you to share with us anyone we may have missed and your own additions to those pioneers that would otherwise be forgotten.