Sexuality is something that many people would prefer not to discuss publicly; after all, what goes on in the bedroom is a private matter. However, being part of the LGBTQ+ community has been controversial for many years, and many have fought hard against discrimination.
Things are slowly beginning to change, and the LGBTQ+ community is larger than ever before, embracing all types of gender identities and welcoming those who don’t identify as completely straight.
Throughout history, there have been many homosexual icons who helped promote acceptance and change the world around them. Here’s a look at some of the most influential figures who were either out loud and proud or who quietly made a difference.
The Gay Historical Figures You Never Knew Were Gay
Many describe homosexuality as being a modern liberation, but there is significant evidence suggesting that being gay was commonplace in the past. Sleeping with both sexes was frequent, and even some of the most notable figures in history enjoyed a same-sex liaison.
Here are a handful of historical figures who were homosexual - but you probably never knew!
- Abraham Lincoln. Despite being happily wed to Mary Todd, Lincoln is well-known for having enjoyed multiple same-sex relationships, including his bodyguard and a long-term hookup with Joshua Speed.
- Anne Frank. The tragic tale of the Jewish schoolgirl and her diaries has been told all over the world. What’s not often mentioned is that Anne Frank was a lesbian, with her writing describing her passion for the female form and her longing for a girlfriend to kiss.
- Frida Kahlo. One of the most iconic artists of all time, Mexican feminist Kahlo is celebrated for her striking work and her involvement in the women’s movement. She had a tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera, a Mexican muralist, but both had multiple affairs. Kahlo famously romped with Leon Trotsky, but she also had well-documented relationships with women, including Josephine Baker and Georgia O’Keefe.
- William Shakespeare. Although he wrote some of the most timeless romances ever penned, such as Romeo and Juliet, it was men who captured William Shakespeare’s real passion. Out of 156 sonnets published in 1609, 126 were addressed to a man.
The Most Sensational LGBTQ+ Leaders in History
There are many LGBTQ+ activists who have changed history, but not everyone who has been influential has been challenging the establishment. There are a number of LGBTQ+ leaders who have been open about their sexuality, forcing change from the inside.
There are too many to name a complete list, but here are two of the LGBTQ+ leaders in history who stand out:
- Leo Varadkar. Serving as the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence from 2017 to 2020, Leo Varadkar was the first serving Irish minister to come out as gay. He campaigned for same-sex marriage and has been vocal about gay rights while becoming the youngest person to become the leader of Ireland. He has Indian heritage, another first for Ireland, and when he was appointed as Taoiseach, he was only the fourth openly homosexual head of a government in the world.
- Manvendra Singh Gohil. Not an elected official but a leader by birthright, Manvendra Singh Gohil is the Indian crown prince of Rajpipla. He disclosed his sexuality in 2006, a controversial admission that led to threats of being disinherited by his family. Undaunted, the prince has continued to lead activism for gay rights and in 2014 insisted that he would always continue to do so, despite the ongoing opposition from his family. His openness in discussing being gay has been instrumental in removing the stigma of homosexuality in his country and proving that even the higher caste members can be gay.
Changing the World Through Action: Famous Gay Black People
The black community has faced many challenges over the years, and the fight against racial discrimination has dominated the spotlight. However, there are a number of famous gay black people who have been fighting for sexual equality too:
- Malcolm X. Everyone has heard of the infamous human rights activist who was a powerful advocate for socialism and black equality. What’s less well known is that Malcolm X also had many relationships with men, although it’s not 100% clear if he was homosexual or bisexual.
- Alphonso David. In 2019, Alphonso David was appointed to become the first black person to head up the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest US LGBTQ+ advocacy group. He is also the first openly homosexual counsel to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
- Gladys Bentley. Born in 1907, Gladys Bentley was a phenomenal blues singer who liked to experiment with her gender identity and presentation. Dying aged just 52, she was described as the most famous lesbian in Harlem in the 1930s and one of the top black entertainers in the US.
- Bayard Rustin. One of the closest advisors to Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin was a prominent civil rights activist. In 2013 he was posthumously awarded the highest civilian honor for his work, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2020 he also received a posthumous pardon for a 1953 arrest, for which he served 50 days in jail and was placed on the sex offenders register. His crime? Having gay sex in a parked car.
Discovering the Famous Gay Girls Who Challenged Sexuality
In many societies throughout the ages, a woman’s sexuality has been something to keep quiet, only existing to satisfy male urges. However, there were many brave female warriors who refused to stick to the status quo, daring to break free of the mound to pursue their own sexual liberation. These included:
- Virginia Woolf. The writer enjoyed a relationship with fellow author Vita Sackville-West with letters found written about their passionate encounters.
- Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite being married to the US President, Eleanor was able to have as many affairs as her unfaithful husband, choosing reporter Lorena Hickock to be the main subject of her affections.
- Greta Garbo. Intensely private about her love life, Greta Garbo was known in the industry for her conquests, persuading many heterosexuals to cast aside their previous preferences for a passionate encounter with her.
Famous Gay People Who Are Out and Proud
Although there are many famous LGBTQ+ people in history, there is also a long list of modern figures too. The battle for equality continues, and there are many LGBTQ+ celebs who play their part in normalizing same-sex relationships. Some of the most popular gay people today include:
- Ellen Degeneres. Opening up about her sexuality in 1997, Ellen Degeneres has been out and proud for many years. She described the difficulties her sexuality caused for her career initially but has been one of the biggest names in the celebrity world battling for equality. She has been married to her long-term partner Portia de Rossi since 2008.
- Jim Parsons. Despite having many roles during his acting career, he’s best known for playing Sheldon Cooper from 2007 to 2019 in Big Bang Theory. In 2012, the New York Times ran an article describing Parsons’ sexuality, a fact the actor was comfortable discussing. He married his partner Todd Spiewak in 2017 and often described the “regular, boring life” that they share together.
- Miley Cyrus. The ex-Disney Club star has grown up in the public eye and has carved out a reputation for being rebellious and shocking. After marrying and separating from Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus has admitted being “queer” and has led discussions about the fluidity of sexuality and the danger of forcing people into a stereotyped box.
Who is the most famous gay celebrity of all time?
There are so many homosexual celebrities in the world of entertainment that it’s difficult to name just one. However, it’s hard to think of a homosexual man that’s more famous than Freddie Mercury because of his global success and his notorious personal life.
Who is the most successful black gay activist?
Alicia Garza co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement, starting it with a single Facebook post. However, she’s equally focused on promoting equality based on her sexuality and embraces her “queerness loudly” in all of her activism work.
Did historical LGBTQ+ figures have to keep their sexuality a secret?
Much depends on where they lived, their social standing, and the era. At many points in history, same-sex relationships were considered to be the norm for both men and women, even those who were higher class.
Are there gay historical figures that date back through the centuries?
Homosexuality isn’t a modern phenomenon, and there are many examples of same-sex relationships throughout history. This dates back to Alexandra the Great and beyond, with many ancient leaders openly enjoying gay relationships.
Who was the most important gay man in history?
There have been many influential figures, but arguably Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was the most important as he began the movement. Forced to resign in 1854, he was the first man to speak up for gay rights’ arguing it was an “inborn condition.”
Who are the most popular new gay celebrities in the world of music and film?
There are many LGBTQ+ stars in the world today, providing an important role model for homosexual teens who are coming to terms with their own identity. These include Laverne Cox, Kristen Stewart, Ezra Miller, and Wentworth Miller.