Paving the Way for Gay Rights: 50 Years of Women


Jun 26, 2015

Paving the Way for Gay Rights: 50 Years of Women

At 83 years old, Edith Windsor, became the plaintiff in the case that challenged the Defense of Marriage Act. On June 26, 2013, in a historic 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a huge victory not only for Edith, but for the gay community and its supporters. 

The ruling is a huge cause for celebration for the future of gay rights as well as a moment to acknowledge those who began the fight for equal rights in a time when such a thing seemed unfathomable.

MAKERS is celebrating the women of the gay rights community in the gallery above. From a woman who bravely challenged the Nazi regime in her fight for gay rights, to Edith Windsor's most recent triumph, take a look at the women who've helped pave the way for gay rights. 

NEXT: Saying "I'm Gay" »

Related Stories: 
Realizing Being Gay is an Option
Bringing Gay Rights to Feminism


Helene Stöcker: One of the first German women to receive a doctorate, leader in the German women’s movement, and senior officer of the White Rose Ladies’ Society, an opposition group during Nazi Germany. When the government planned to include lesbians in Germany’s Paragraph 175 (the German Criminal Code), Stöcker fought the legal change.    Photo: Imagno/Getty Images
ONE, Inc. was a gay rights organization formed from an earlier homophile group, the Mattachine Society in 1952. ONE readily admitted women, and Joan Corbin, Irma Wolf, Stella Rush, Helen Sandoz, and Betty Perdue were vital to its early success.   Photo Credit: ONE, Inc.
Del Martin: Co-founder of the first lesbian civil and political rights organization, the U.S. Daughters of the Bilitis with wife Phyllis Lyon. Martin was also the first out lesbian elected to NOW.
Phyllis Lyon: Co-founder with wife Del Martin of the Daughters of the Bilitis. Lyon was the first editor of the DOB’s newsletter, The Ladder. Lyon and Martin became the first gay couple married in San Francisco in 2008 after more than 50 years of being together. Del Martin has since passed away. (Left: Lyon) Photo Credit: WireImage
Barbara Gittings: Prominent gay equality activist who organized the New York Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis from 1958 to 1963 and was part of the movement to have the American Psychiatric Association drop homosexuality as a mental illness in 1972. Photo Credit: New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division
Lilli Vincenz: Pioneering gay rights activist. In 1965 she was the only lesbian to participate in the White House picket. From 1971-1979 she hosted a monthly Gay Women’s Open House in Washington to provide a safe setting for socializing and voicing concerns. Photo Credit: Daughters of Bilitis
Kay Lahusen: Considered the first openly gay photojournalist. Her photos appeared on several covers of The Ladder from 1964 to 1966 and helped with founding the Gay Activists Alliance in 1970. Pictured is Lahusen holding a photograph of her later partner, Barbara Gittings. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Betty Berzon: She was among the first psychotherapists to assist gay and lesbian clients. After coming out as a lesbian in 1968, she began providing therapy to gays and lesbians, and in 1971, she organized the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. Photo: Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs
"Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned." Sylvia Rivera: A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Rivera advocated against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and was a loud and persistent voice for the rights of people of color and low-income queers and trans people. Photo Credit: Sylvia Rivera Law Project
Rita Mae Brown: The writer's first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle,published in 1973, dealt with lesbian themes in an explicit manner unusual for the time. As a feminist activist she pushed the women's movement to accept lesbians.
Cherríe Moraga: The feminist writer and activist uses her writing to explore the ways in which gender, sexuality and race intersect in the lives of women of color. Moraga's work has been part of who she is, a women who identifies as a Chicana and a lesbian.
Barbara Smith: The lesbian feminist has played a significant role in building and sustaining Black Feminism by bringing black women's literature to colleges and publishing.
Gloria Anzaldúa: The scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory incorporated her lifelong feelings of social and cultural marginalization into her work, including her most well-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.
Lily Tomlin: Though she officially came out to the press in 2001, Tomlin never really kept her sexual orientation a secret, referring to partner, Jane Wagner, in interviews. The actress and comedian has been involved in a number of feminist and gay-friendly film productions. Photo Credit: NBC via Getty Images
Brenda Howard: Known as “Mother of Pride,"she, along with other LGBT activists are credited with having popularized the word “Pride” to describe the festivities. (Pictured behind) Photo Credit:
Ellen DeGeneres: The comedian made history on her popular sitcom when Ellen’s character came out of the closet in 1997, becoming the first-ever gay lead character on television. Photo Credit: ABC via Getty Images
Katherine Miller: The last West Point cadet discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). With the repeal of DADT, Miller enlisted in the Army as an officer. Photo Credit:
Roberta Achtenberg: Currently serving as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, she is the first openly gay presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate. Photo Credit: Ron Galella Collection
Rosie O'Donnell: The famous comedian and LGBT rights activist who came out publicly on her television show and then continued to bring attention to gay adoption issues. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Portia de Rossi: In an interview about her early career, the actress stated she was fearful of being exposed as a lesbian. In 2005, she opened up publicly about her sexual orientation and married Ellen DeGeneres in 2008. Photo Credit: Bravo via Getty Images
Suze Orman: Author, financial advisor, motivational speaker, and television host on CNBC's The Suze Orman Show came out as a lesbian in 2007. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Rachel Maddow: The television host, political commentator, and author was the first openly gay anchor to host a major prime-time news program in the United States. Photo Credit: WireImage
Anna Paquin: The star of HBO's True Blood came out in 2010 as bisexual in a public service announcement for the Give a Damn campaign as part of the True Colours Fund, an advocacy group organized by Cyndi Lauper dedicated to LGBT equality. The video was so popular and highly viewed that it caused the website to overload and shut down. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Jane Lynch: The openly gay comedian, well known for her role in Glee as the abominable Sue Sylvester, was named one of Power Up's "10 Amazing Gay Women in Showbiz." Photo Credit: NBC via Getty Images
Christine Quinn: The current Speaker of the New York City Council is the first female and first openly gay speaker. She has recently announced her candidacy to succeed Michael Bloomberg as the city's next mayor. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Mary Kay Henry: She's the first female president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and co-founder of SEIU's Lavender Caucus, dedicated to improving rights for LGBTQ people within unions and at the workplace. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Jodie Foster: The actress whose sexuality was always questioned by the media came out on live television at the 2013 Golden Globes while accepting the Cecil B. Demille Award award. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Jenna Wolfe: The correspondent for NBC's Today, and the news anchor of their Weekend edition publicly came out as a lesbian and announced that she is expecting her first child with her partner, NBC News Foreign Correspondent Stephanie Gosk. Photo Credit: NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
Jennifer Chrisler: She serves as the Executive Director of Family Equality Council (formerly Family Pride Coalition), the national American advocacy organization committed to securing family equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) parents, guardians and allies. Photo Credit: WireImage
Tammy Baldwin: The United States Senator from Wisconsin is the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in the Senate, and the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Edith Windsor: Windsor sued the federal government after she was charged $360,053 in taxes on the estate she inherited from her spouse, Thea Spyer. At 83 years old she became the plaintiff in the landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court held Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment due process clause. Photo Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

2018 MAKERS Conference

MAKERS amplifies the dialogue around harassment, equal pay and other urgent issues, pushing the women's movement forward. #RAISEYOURVOICE

MenuGearLanguageEmailInstagramFacebookLinkedInTumblrYouTubeTwitterSearchArrow RightClose XArrow Right CircleCarousel Nav DotPlayCalendar IconClosed CaptioningClosed Captioning