Later this month will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This protest against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn became one of the most pivotal moments in the fight for LGBT equality in the United States. It’s an important part of American history, and this author wants to make sure that children know of its importance with his new book.
Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution is a picture book written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jamey Christoph. It tells the history of the Stonewall Inn and how it became the sight of an uprising that would eventually lead to several gay rights groups being established as well as the first ever pride march.
Having previously written children’s books about Harvey Milk and gay rights activism, Sanders felt that it is important for young readers to learn about the beginning of the gay rights movement despite some people’s objections:
“I’m often asked why I write controversial books. I don’t consider what I write controversial. I consider it, as you said, history. To me, not teaching history would be controversial. The shelf of picture books that discuss LGBTQ+ history is small, but it’s growing. And it should grow. LGBTQ+ history is part of American history.”
As a gay artist, Christoph felt a personal connection to the source material, something that he hadn’t felt when drawing for other books:
“As a gay artist and as someone who had my own struggles coming to terms with my identity, and valuing these type of stories that show adversity but give hope, it was personal. I really gave it my all.”
Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution is available now.
Rafiki, a film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu that depicts lesbian love, has been recognized at the largest African film festival, Fespaco. The festival has awarded Samantha Mugatsia “best actress” for her portrayal of Kena Mwaura.
According to IMDb, the film tells the tale of Kena and Ziki, two girls who “long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.” It is inspired by the short story “Jambula Tree” by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.
IMAGE VIA HUMANMOVENT
The award is significant because the film is banned in Kenya, the country it was directed in—an extension of the laws against homosexuality in the country.
The laws, though “recent” as far as their imposition in 20th century by British colonial rule, seem to reflect public opinion of much of the country; 90 percent of respondents to a Pew survey conducted in Kenya in 2013 said that “society should not accept homosexuality.” The laws and public aversion to homosexuality fuel each other in a hateful cycle, since “family members and neighbors sometimes report suspected homosexuals to the police.”
IMAGE VIA PINKNEWS
The country’s High Court is set to either uphold or overturn its ruling against gay sex on May 24th, several months after it was originally supposed to decide in February.
In the midst of such conflicting public opinion, the film’s being recognized by Fespaco is an undeniable achievement, and hopefully foreshadows what’s to come for gay rights in Kenya!
Language is always evolving. The way we speak in 2018 will not at all be the way we speak in 2068, much in the same way that we don’t currently speak the way people did in 1318. The evolution of language is a fabulous thing; it reflects our capacity to adapt and change when presented with new information, and allows for the progress of the human species. But change is painfully slow, and the progress of language is especially hindered because of the irritating culture of linguistic gatekeeping. There are people in the world who take immense pride in their supposed mastery of the English language, to the point of being downright snobbish toward people who either have not had the privilege of an English language education or simply reject the idea that it is necessary to take grammar so seriously.
One of the current linguistic debates is over the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. In recent years, people have become much more attentive to the pronouns used to refer to others. Slowly, effort is being made to ask first before calling someone “she” or “he,” and while the question may seem small or unnecessary, it’s really not. Simply asking for someone’s pronouns indicates respect for the person being spoken to, acknowledgement of their right to determine their own identity, and reinforces that appearance cannot be and has never been the sole indicator of one’s gender, and truthfully, it never has been, but now people are starting to notice.
Image via Gender Free World
But even those who have gotten far enough to recognize the necessity of asking for pronouns may not have expanded their horizons far enough to include genders outside of the binary male-female system. In other words, even if you have recognized that the gender binary is not what you’ve been told it is, you may not know what exists outside of that binary.
Not everyone in this world is either a man or a woman, and even if one is a man or a woman, one’s relation to or expression of that identity may not be exclusive to traditional gender-based limitations.
These people may accept she or he pronouns, but many exclusively accept “they.” Which is fine. There is absolutely no personal sacrifice required to refer to a person by the pronoun by which they have told you they will be referred to. But of course, some people just gotta be difficult.
Image via Beyond the Binary
There is a alarming number of people in the world who are so hung up on the “rules” that they are completely dismissing the importance of using “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. There is an even more alarming number of people who are fully cognizant of the importance of gender-neutral pronouns and use their conception of rigid grammar to disrespect and insult non-binary people.
To be clear, even if the singular they was incorrect, it would not matter. Language is capable of evolving, and if we use “they” as a singular pronoun, it is a singular pronoun. Every single word we speak today was once new and never-before-used. Many of our words mean something entirely different today than they did when they entered the lexicon. Words are invented and once invented, evolve further to fill the gaps in our language. We have words because we need them, and when a new linguistic gap presents itself, we improvise.
For example, have you ever wondered why English doesn’t have a plural second-person pronoun to compare to “you”? In the absence of such a pronoun, we resort to using “y’all,” “youse,” “yinz,” and the technically more correct, but clunky, “you all.” The answer is actually hiding in plain sight.
Back in the olden times (very olden, we’re talking like Shakespeare’s era), “you” was the plural pronoun. If you were speaking to one person, you’d address them as “thou.” That is, you would, unless you were speaking to royalty. It is not unusual to perceive and address a monarch as being plural; recall Queen Victoria’s famous line, “We are not amused.”
“Thou” eventually fell out of use in the 17th century due to being perceived as impolite. Therefore, if you have any qualms about “they” as a singular pronoun, then it would behoove you to start thou-ing people, lest you be taken for a hypocrite.
Image via Smithsonian Magazine
Aside from the historical evolution of language, the singular they is also defended by its formidable ally, Merriam-Webster.
At Comic Con last weekend, CW announced some exciting news for ‘Supergirl’ fans! They are welcoming their newest cast member to the team, Nicole Maines!
If Maines’s name sounds familiar, that’s because it should; in 2014, the then sixteen-year-old went head-to-head with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (and won) when she claimed that her high school was violating her rights under the Human Rights Act by not allowing her to use the restroom of her choosing. The court ruled in her favor, and Maines has been a leading figurehead in the fight for transgender rights ever since.
Maines went on to be featured in the HBO documentary The Trans List, along with playing a guest-starring role on the television series Royal Pains. And now, the twenty-year-old actress and activist will take on the role of the newest Supergirl heroine, Nia Nal.
The character is said to based on the DC Comics character Nura Nal, otherwise known as Dream Girl, who has the ability to foresee the deaths of others.
Image via MajorSpoilers
This announcement came just days after the CW and Warner Bros. announced their plans to make Batwoman openly gay in their new Batwomantelevision adaptation, much like she is in the original comics.
It’s so exciting to see companies as prominent as the CW and Warner Bros. openly speak out and take a stand for the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community is rarely depicted in a real, raw, and normalized human way within film and television; it’s refreshing to see that begin to shift, especially after Scarlett Johansson’s Rub & Tug casting, in which Hollywood decided to cast yet another cis-actor as a trans-role. Johansson has since relinquished the role. Maines herself, spoke out against the casting (and you can read more trans-actors’ takes on it here):
We have straight people playing gay people all the time and that’s because there isn’t a larger conversation around—there’s not so much harmful rhetoric flying around that they are parading around, dressing up, pretending and so you have to think about context with that. And with trans folks, we have a lot of people accusing us of just playing dress up for whatever reason, and that’s not true. And so having trans people play trans roles shows that we are valid in our identity and we deserve to exist as we do. And so when we have cisgender actors play trans characters, it further that stereotype that we are playing dress up, which is not true.
The transgender community is the most-targeted community regarding hate crimes, acts of violence, and even homicide of any demographic. Researchers in 2017 discovered that one third of the transgender community has been the victim of a hate crime. And 53% of anti-LGBTQ+ murders are transgendered women. (If you’re looking for ways to get involved or more information on how you can help, click here.)
The hatred and oppression will only continue if we, as a society, continue to fail; we need to allow transpeople to share their stories, to be on television, to star in movies, to be so clearly, unashamedly visible and present and equal and here without the constant fear of being targeted because of it. We are one people and we need to uplift and protect each other; failure to bring equality to all is immoral and inhuman in the cruelest of ways.
The CW is leading the way towards visibility in the media with Supergirl and it’s time for the rest of Hollywood to follow their lead.
Given the scarcity of satisfactory LGBTQ representation, one might be inclined to think that LGBTQ people haven’t existed for the bulk of human history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Queer folks have been around since the dawn of time, and we aren’t going anywhere. Discrimination, violence, and oppression have contributed to the erasure of queer individuals who have been blazing the trails since before your grandparents’ grandparents were born, and here is just a small drop in the ocean of queer writers throughout history.
1. Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Image Via NPR
Walt Whitman was a American, poet, author, essayist, and journalist. His prolific career is perhaps best remembered for his epic poems Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself. Biographers have continually debated Whitman’s sexual orientation; his poetry, particularly Leaves of Grass, which faced serious censorship after its publication, contains several homoerotic images, however others argue that this was unintentional. Whitman himself was cagey (to say the least) about the queer tones in his work. He often denied that there was any homoerotic subtext in his writing, yet those who knew him claimed that in their relationships, he was rather frank about his sexuality.
Oscar Wilde (who also appears on this list), after meeting Whitman in 1882, was adamant that Whitman was gay, and even told the activist George Cecil Ives, “I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips.” Whitman suffered from poor health later in life, and eventually passed away in 1892 of several lung-related illnesses.
2. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
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You knew this was coming. Oscar Wilde was an Irish novelist and poet, and is often remembered for his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the drama that surrounds its publication. Dorian Gray was originally published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, and drew such harsh criticism for its depiction of “immorality,” (one character in the novel expresses a potentially romantic infatuation for another male character) that when it was later re-published as a book, Wilde toned down the novel’s homoerotic subtext.
In 1895, Wilde became embroiled in a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry; this case did not turn out in Wilde’s favor, and led to his arrest and conviction on charges of sodomy and gross indecency. It was during this trial that Wilde was called upon to make his famous “the love that dare not speak its name” speech, during which he said, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it…. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.” After his conviction, Wilde spent two years in prison, and his final work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, was inspired by this imprisonment. After release, Wilde spent the rest of his life in exile and died destitute in Paris in 1900 (possibly due to complications from an injury incurred while in prison).
3. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
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Virginia Woolf was an English writer and poet, best known as the author of Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of prominent English literary figures, who, among other things, encouraged a liberal conception of sexuality. This encouragement may have been what allowed Woolf to feel secure enough to have a long-term relationship with poet, writer, and garden designer, Vita Sackville-West. Virginia Woolf’s queer feminist classic Orlando (which you may know from the excellent film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton) is inspired by the events of Sackville-West’s life, and Woolf’s son Nigel Nicolson said of the novel:
The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.
Woolf struggled with her mental health her entire life, and eventually succumbed to suicide in 1941.
4. Alain Locke (1885-1954)
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Alain Locke was an American writer, philosopher, and educator, known as the unofficial “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance. His influence was so pervasive that Martin Luther King is quoted as saying, “We’re going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe.”
In 1925, Locke edited The New Negro: An Interpretation, a collection of short fiction, poetry, and essays on African and African-American art and literature; this text was a major landmark in Locke’s expression of his philosophy of “The New Negro,” a belief that African-Americans must reject white standards of behavior and invest in the concept of black advancement and equality. Locke was gay, and acted as a mentor and role model to several other gay members of the Harlem Renaissance, including Countee Cullen, who appears on this list. Locke died due to heart disease in 1954.
5. Frederico García Lorca (1898-1936)
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Frederico García Lorca was a Spanish writer, poet, and dramatist; he, along with Salvador Dalí, was a member of the Generation of ‘27, a group of influential Spanish artists (primarily poets) dedicated to avant-garde forms of expression. Some of his works include Poem of the Deep Song, Gypsy Ballads, and The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. García Lorca was gay, and due to his inclusion of homoromantic themes in his work, he was heavily censored during his lifetime—his work was generally banned in Spain until 1953.
He was a target of Spain’s Franco-era government; official reports describe García Lorca as a “socialist” and participant in “homosexual and abnormal practices.” García Lorca was shot in 1936, likely by members of a Nationalist militia. The precise identity of García Lorca’s assailants is unknown, and his body was never found.
6. Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
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Langston Hughes was an American writer and poet, best known for being a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and a pioneer of jazz poetry. As a child, Hughes had a difficult relationship with his father, a relationship that inspired his story “Blessed Assurance,” which describes a young man struggling to get along with his father due to the son’s perceived effeminacy. Biographers are unsettled on the issue of Hughes’ sexuality.
Like Whitman, it is believed that he worked homoromantic subtext into many of his works, but some biographers argue that Hughes may have been asexual. However, others point out that in order to secure the support of certain churches for his activism, Hughes would have had to be very careful not to disclose his sexuality if it had been anything other than heterosexual. Hughes never married, and died in 1967 after complications from surgery for his prostate cancer. Hughes’ ashes were interred under a cosmogram at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
7. Countee Cullen (1903-1946)
Image Via Poetry Foundation
Like Hughes, Countee (pronounced coun-TAY) Cullen was a poet, children’s writer, novelist, and a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Unlike Hughes, Cullen was far more candid about his sexuality. Cullen was a mentee of the Harlem Renaissance’s “Dean,” Alain Locke, who guided Cullen towards queer-positive material that encouraged him to embrace his identity.
In a letter to Locke, Cullen wrote, “It opened up for me soul windows which had been closed; it threw a noble and evident light on what I had begun to believe, because of what the world believes, ignoble and unnatural.” Cullen’s career was devoted to the advancement of African-American literature and civil rights. He died in 1946 due to complications of high blood pressure, he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
8. Michael Dillon (1915-1962)
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Michael Dillon was a British physician and author, as well as the first man in England to undergo gender-affirming surgery (a surgery that was performed in secret by a trusted colleague). In 1946, Dillon published Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology. The book is about the experience of “masculine inverts,” people we now refer to as men who were assigned female at birth.
In the book, Dillon argued for medical transition as a treatment for gender dysphoria, rather than conversion “therapy,” writing, “Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body, the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind.” Tragically, Dillon was publicly outed against his will, and in order to escape the undesired press, he spent the rest of his life in Buddhist communities in India, where he eventually died.
9. James Baldwin (1924-1987)
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James Baldwin was an American novelist and prominent figure in the civil rights movement. Baldwin grew up in Harlem, and on that experience, he said, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” Frustrated by the discrimination he faced in the U.S., Baldwin emigrated to France when he was twenty-four, and spent most of his later life there.
In 1956, Baldwin published Giovanni’s Room, a novel that drew intense attention and criticism for its portrayal of homosexuality and bisexuality and is often cited as one of the most important queer novels ever written. In the 70s and 80s, Baldwin boldly and openly wrote about homosexuality and homophobia in several essays. Baldwin died of stomach cancer in France in 1987, his remains were interred in Hartsdale, New York.
10. Truman Capote (1924-1984)
Image Via Truman Capote
If you love true crime writing, you owe a lot to Truman Capote, who, in 1966, published In Cold Blood, which revolutionized the form and style of crime writing. Capote is also responsible for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and A Christmas Memory. Capote was openly gay, and while he was never much of an active participant in the gay rights movement, the openness with which he expressed his identity in conjunction with his level of celebrity was an important milestone in queer history.
Capote was known for his sharp wit and searing humor; several years before his death, he said, “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” Capote died at the age of fifty-nine of liver disease and drug intoxication.
11. Yukio Mishima (1925-1970)
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Yukio Mishima, widely considered to be one of the most important Japanese writers of the 20th century, was an author, poet, playwright, actor, model, and film director. His first novel, Confessions of a Mask, is a semi-autobiographical tale of a young man who must deal with concealing his homosexuality in Imperial Japan.
Mishima was a nationalist and in 1968, he founded the Tatenokai right-wing militia, which in 1970 initiated a coup d’ėtat of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The coup failed, and in shame, Mishima committed ritual suicide. Six years after his death, Mishima’s novel, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, was adapted into a British film.
12. Jan Morris (1928-)
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Jan Morris is a Welsh author, best known for her travel writing, especially the Pax Britannica trilogy. For this work, she was honored with a CBE by Queen Elizabeth 1999. Morris is transgender, and in 1974, she detailed her transition in her book Conundrum, which was one of the first autobiographies to describe a person’s gender transition.
In the book, she writes about growing up and discovering her gender dysphoria as a child, saying, “Perhaps one day, when I grew up, I would be as solid as other people appeared to be; but perhaps I was meant always to be a creature of wisp or spindrift, loitering in this inconsequential way almost as though I were intangible.” Morris still writes and lives mainly in northern Wales.
13. Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Image Via Sheen Magazine
If you went to high school in the United States, you are probably familiar with Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry is the American playwright behind A Raisin in the Sun, the very first play by a black woman to be performed on Broadway. Based on private journals and letters, as well as her enthusiastic advocacy for gay rights, it is believed that Hansberry was attracted to women.
Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer when she was only thirty-four, leaving behind a legacy of powerful activism, and throughout her life, she encouraged those on the furthest margins of society to push back against systemic oppression as hard as they can; “They must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.”
14. Larry Kramer (1935-)
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Larry Kramer is an American playwright and author best known for his passionate activism on behalf of AIDS victims, which most of his books and plays are written about. In 1980, he co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which is now the largest private organization that works to provide assistance to people living with AIDS. Kramer became disillusioned with the pace of GMHC’s progress, and based his best-known play, The Normal Heart, on these experiences.
To counter the frustration he experienced with GMHC, Kramer helped found ACT UP, a direct action advocacy group dedicated to fighting the AIDS plague. Kramer still writes and advocates for AIDS victims, and in 2014, The Normal Heart was adapted into film by HBO.
15. Pat Parker (1944-1989)
Image Via Lynda Koolish
Pat Parker was an American poet, activist, and writer known for her heartbreaking poetry on the experience of being a gay black woman in the U.S. From 1978-1988 she was the executive director of the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center, and she was also somewhat involved in the Black Panther movement. She spent her life advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people, victims of domestic violence, people of color, women, and the intersections among those groups.
One of her best known poems, Womanslaughter, is about the murder of her older sister at the hands of her husband, and the lack of justice that followed. Parker died of breast cancer in 1989; she is survived by her long-term partner, Marty Dunham, and their two daughters.
16. Angela Davis (1944-)
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Angela Davis is and American activist, educator, and author, known for being a superstar of the Black Panther movement. In 1997, she identified herself as a lesbian in an issue of Out magazine. She is a prolific writer, and her work has taken on issues that face the black community in the United States, specifically black women. Some her works include Women, Race, & Class, Are Prisons Obsolete?, and The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues.
Davis still writes and teaches, and was recently featured in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th. Davis’ activism and writing has mainly been oriented around using education as a method of promoting social change; “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”
17. Jackie Curtis (1947-1985)
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Jackie Curtis was an American actress, writer, and singer. She is best known for being one of Andy Warhol’s superstars, but she was also a prolific playwright, having written Glamour, Glory and Gold, Amerika Cleopatra, Femme Fatale, among others. Several notable people starred in productions of her plays, such as Robert de Niro, Harvey Fierstein, and Patti Smith.
Curtis is also one of the figures named in Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Curtis was transgender, and cast several trans actors in her plays to counter the lack of trans representation on stage. Throughout her life, Curtis struggled with drug addiction, and died of a heroin overdose in 1985 at thirty-eight years old.
18. Kate Bornstein (1948-)
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Kate Bornstein is a gender non-conforming trans author and performance artist, who has published several queer-oriented books, including, Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, and My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity. Bornstein is still working and you can follow her excellent Twitter account at twitter.com/katebornstein.
Bornstein’s work has been primarily concerned with changing the way we understand gender, and transforming our understanding of gender as a binary system into one that acknowledges gender identities other than male and female. She is quoted as saying, “Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white.”
19. Leslie Feinberg (1949-2014)
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Leslie Feinberg was an American author and activist. In 1993, Feinberg wrote Stone Butch Blues, a memoir about hir experience as a butch lesbian in the United States in the 1970s. Known for hir gender non-conforming expression, Feinberg adjusted hir pronouns in different contexts, noting, “I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir” because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met.” Feinberg’s work was generally oriented around the progression of gender studies discourse; hir 1996 book, Transgender Warriors, was crucial in advancing gender studies discourse in mainstream outlets.
Feinberg passed away in 2014 due to complications related to Lyme disease. Ze was survived by hir spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, also a writer and activist.
20. Lou Sullivan (1951-1991)
Image Via JM Ellison
Lou Sullivan was an American writer and editor who published several resources for transgender men, both independently and as the editor of The Gateway, a San Franciscan newsletter circulated amongst the local queer community. As a gay trans man, Sullivan was met with obstacles to his transition, for at the time he was seeking medical attention, heterosexuality was a criterion for recognition of medical necessity for transition. This put Sullivan on the path of lobbying the American Psychiatric Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health to remove the orientation requirement, so that all transgender Americans could have access to life-saving dysphoria treatment regardless of sexual orientation.
Sullivan was diagnosed with HIV in 1980, and later passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1991. Known for his grim and often brutal sense of humor, Sullivan once wrote, “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.”