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Top 10 queer icons in the 1960s // LGBTQ+ History

The 1960s: A Decade of Queer Liberation

The 1960s brought about a profound shift in societal attitudes towards sexuality as it marked an era of significant change and the beginning of the gay rights movement. While societal acceptance wasn't universal, and the struggle was real, the courage and determination of these individuals left an indelible mark on history. 

This decade was a pivotal time for the LGBTQ+ community, and saw the emergence of many brave individuals who defied the constraints of their time to boldly express their true selves. These trailblazers, who we proudly recognise as queer icons, not only challenged prevailing norms but also served as beacons of hope for the LGBTQ+ community.

They were actors, writers, artists, activists, each contributing to the tapestry of queer history in their unique way. In the face of adversity, their stories of resilience resonated deeply, inspiring generations to come. So, buckle up for a fascinating journey back to the 1960s as we unveil the top ten queer icons of the decade.

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1. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, was a central figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Known for her fearless activism, Johnson's contributions to the movement have made her a beloved figure in queer history. 

2. Barbara Gittings (1932-2007)

Barbara Gittings was a prominent American activist for LGBTQ+ rights. She is best known for her work with the Daughters of Bilitis and for her significant role in the American Library Association's work on LGBTQ+ literature. 

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3. James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Famous author and social critic James Baldwin was open about his homosexuality and often incorporated LGBTQ+ themes into his work. His novel, 'Giovanni's Room', is a classic piece of gay literature. 

4. Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) 

Sylvia Rivera, a transgender activist and contemporary of Marsha P. Johnson, was also a key player in the Stonewall uprising. Her advocacy for homeless transgender youth continues to inspire activists today. 

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5. Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989)

Christine Jorgensen is known as one of the first individuals to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. Her story brought transgender issues into the public eye. 

6. Harvey Milk (1930-1978)

Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. His courage and dedication to the community continue to inspire generations of activists. 

Despite facing significant barriers, Harvey Milk won a seat on the San Francisco City Board of Supervisors in 1977, making history. He used his platform to champion for LGBTQ+ rights, propelling the community into the political landscape. His iconic status was forever cemented in history when he was tragically assassinated for his unwavering advocacy, a sobering reminder of the struggle for queer acceptance.

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7. Del Martin (1921-2008) and Phyllis Lyon (1924-2020)

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were an iconic lesbian couple who co-founded the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States. Their lifelong activism and love story have become symbols of the fight for marriage equality. 

8. Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988)

Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran, was the first gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight their ban on gays. His fight for equality made headlines nationwide. 

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9. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde, a self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," used her work to confront issues related to race, sexuality, and feminism. Her powerful words continue to resonate in the fight for equality. 

10. Judy Garland (1922-1969)

It would be unthinkable not to include the illustrious Judy Garland in a list of 1960s queer icons. This luminary of the silver screen, known best for her enchanting portrayal of Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz', held an allure that extended far beyond her cinematic charm. 

Garland's connection to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly to gay men, was profound and deeply rooted. Her exuberant spirit, combined with an undercurrent of vulnerability, resonated profoundly with a community grappling with its own identity amidst society's strict heteronormative confines. Garland's life, marked by both staggering triumphs and devastating lows, mirrored the struggles faced by many in the queer community, forging a visceral bond. 

These figures, among many others, provided a voice for the LGBTQ+ community during a time when it was desperately needed. Their courage and determination to be seen, heard, and validated laid the foundation for progress and continues to inspire change today.

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BONUS #11. Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

A leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art, Andy Warhol was an openly gay man during a time when homosexuality was largely stigmatised. His works and lifestyle played a major role in bringing queer culture into mainstream consciousness. Warhol's art studio, known famously as "The Factory", was a prominent hub in the 60s for creative types, including many LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Warhol's impact on pop culture is immeasurable, and his bravery in challenging societal norms and expectations makes him a significant queer icon.

Remembering the Legends: Honoring the Legacy of Queer Icons in the 1960s

As we look back on the 1960s, it's clear that this was a pivotal decade in the history of the LGBTQ+ community. The brave and bold queer icons we've discussed not only shaped the culture of their time, but also laid the groundwork for future generations to express themselves authentically. 

The legacy of these icons continues to inspire and empower the LGBTQ+ community today. Whether they were openly queer or subtly challenging norms, each of these individuals played a crucial part in the evolution of queer visibility and acceptance. The courage they exhibited in the face of adversity serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength inherent in the community.

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Queer Icons Throughout the Decades

Enjoyed this piece about the incredible queer icons of the 1960s? We've got plenty more where that came from! Check out these deep dives into the vibrant LGBTQ+ history through every decade:

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