12 Lesbians Who Made History

We have these women to thank for making headway in normalizing lesbianism in social, political, and professional settings. Not only are they incredibly talented and courageous women in general, they have broken barriers both for women and the lesbian community as a whole. In honor of Women’s History Month,  here is a list of 12 groundbreaking female professionals who play (or played)  for our team. While there are many, many others, these choices were made because they are women we haven’t talked about in a while, or featured recently on AfterEllen. (with the exception of Ellen. We always mention Ellen, for obvious reasons ;))

Sally Ride

After secretly sharing 27 beautiful years of love with her partner, Tammy O’Shaughnessy, this NASA astronaut was finally outed as a lesbian in her obituary after her death in 2012.  Along with being the first publicly known lesbian astronaut and the first woman in space, she established NASA’s Office of Exploration serving as the first director.  A lot of firsts happened because of Sally Ride and her legacy lives on in the heart of every woman who strives to earn equality in male-dominated professions.

Angela Davis

Professor emeritus, public figure in civil rights activism, and feminist author Angela Davis told Out Magazine that she is a lesbian during a 1997 interview. She is often cited for her indirect involvement in the controversial Marin County courthouse incident for which all charges against her were acquitted with judges determining that she was not guilty. She continues to be an inspiring figure to activists, feminists and recently appeared in the 2016 documentary 13th discussing mass incarceration.

Jane Addams

Scholars have produced convincing evidence that Mary Rozet Smith was Addam’s lifelong lesbian love. During 1931 Addams was the first woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for establishing the first social services center for low-income workers and newly settled immigrants with Ellen Gates Starr.

Eleanor Roosevelt

She is more publicly known for being the First Lady of the United States during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Less commonly known is Eleanor’s romantic relationships with other women. There are archives of love letters she exchanged with New York City news reporter Lorena Hickok whom she met during an interview. There is also room for speculation of the depth of her relationship with legendary pilot Amelia Earhart, whom she was very close to throughout their lives. A shero of the White House, she was a leader in the 1920’s women’s movement, served as chair of the Democratic National Committee for its’ platform on women’s issues, and published the book It’s Up to the Women.  Roosevelt has been quoted as saying, “I became more of a feminist than I ever imagined.”

Pamela K. Chen

Photo Credit: Michael Key
Photo Credit: Michael Key

The first openly gay Asian-American judge to serve federally — appointed by former president Barack Obama in 2012.  She has received the Susan B. Anthony Award and the U.S. Department of Justice Director’s Award for tackling issues with human trafficking.

Ellen DeGeneres

Photo via EllenTV.com
Photo via EllenTV.com

The entertainment industry was forever changed when she decided to tell America that their beloved main character for their favorite TV show Ellen was, in fact, gay.  Her coming out as a lesbian was so transformative that this very website’s name is based on this powerful icon who gave the lesbian community an official voice.  She initially faced discrimination from both viewers and advertisers, but today The Ellen DeGeneres Show has won 36 daytime Emmy Awards and was officially renewed during 2016 for three more seasons until 2020.