SIUC Dept. of Communication Studies RSOs
In celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, here is a look at 10 influential speakers and speeches you should know about this semester. This list is not exhaustive, only some of the strong advocates that have paved the way for so many LGBTQ+ voices to be heard are included. Leave us a comment below of some amazing LGBTQ+ icons that have impacted your life that did not make the list!
1. Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgenson (1926-1989) was the first transgender woman to become widely known in the United States for having a sex reaffirmation surgery and living her life as a woman.
After Jorgenson’s military service during World War II, she traveled to Europe to become her true self. Her story was heard around the world and she made news for being the “Ex-GI to the Blond Beauty” (The National WWII Museum). She became an activist against hate and discrimination, sharing her story for decades to come.
Jorgenson was a role model for transgender people and an influential speaker for transgender rights. Listen to her full speech from 1972 at UCLA archived from the Communication Studies Department here.
2. James Baldwin
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist known for his activism for racial, sexual, and class reformations in the United States. Baldwin went on to write numerous stories, playwrights, essays and talking about his experience as a Black, gay man coming to understand his place in the world.
Baldwin is also known for his groundbreaking and powerful debate against William F. Buckley Jr. In 1965 at the University of Cambridge. James Baldwin argued in favor of the proposition that “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro” and spoke out against systematic racism and oppression in America. This speech is famous for Baldwin's verbal and nonverbal approaches to his revelatory performance and the conversation that was held is still very prevalent today.
Watch Baldwin’s speech during the 1965 debate below:
3. Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was an American writer and a self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet (Poetry Foundation) who dedicated her life and work to addressing injustices within our culture.
She spoke at many conferences and events, working to call out the oppressive structures that bind LGBTQ+ women of colors and creating solidarity through her Black feminist work.
You can read one of her well-known speeches from the 1981 National Women’s Studies Association Conference title “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” here.
4. Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in California. Milk was a continuous voice for the LGBTQ+ community and spoke out against many policies and bills that would harm those living in San Francisco.
He was continuously ridiculed for his identity as a gay man and received numerous death threats daily. One of his famous statements made was hope that his death would be the change needed for the country to finally accept the community he was so proud of, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door” (Milk Foundation).
One of Milk’s most famous and powerful speeches was his “Hope” speech. This speech was an act of defiance against the norm and a true testament to his own experience as a gay man in the 1970’s.
Watch Sir Ian McKellen reads Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech here.
Read this speech analysis by Speakers Institute, “Harvey Milk’s Hope Speech (And How His Speaking and Body Language Changed a Nation)
5. Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was an American activist who fought for LGBTQ+ rights and is one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.
From the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, “so much of our understanding of Marsha came from the accounts of people who did not look like or come from the same place as her.”
Johnson actively spoke out against anti-LGBTQ+ treatment in the United States and followed her famous mantra “Pay it No Mind,” which is what the “P.” stands for as her middle initial. Without Johnson, the first brick would have not been thrown to fight back against prejudices and lead us into decades of continued fighting for the rights and acceptance of our LGBTQ+ communities.
Watch this video of Johnson giving a spoken word piece titled “Philosophy” below:
6. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is an American actress and is known for being the first openly transgender woman on the cover of Time and a pioneer for transgender activism. Cox has presented many speeches and words of wisdom, looking to bring awareness of transgender disparities that are not being discussed.
From her iconic portrayal of Sophia Bush in Orange is the New Black to calling out Katie Couric for her invasive and dehumanizing questions about trans women and their bodies, Cox is an inspiration to so many transgender women of colors and continues to shine a spotlight on issues the LGBTQ+ communities face through her powerful speeches. Take a look for yourself:
National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change Speech (2014)
Variety’s Power of Women Speech (2016)
Pitzer College Commencement Keynote Speech (2019)
7. Janet Mock
Janet Mock is a writer, producer, and director best known for her memoir Redefining Realness published in 2014. Mock is a transgender activist, and uses her projects like Hollywood, Pose, and Surpassing Certainty to address inequalities of marginalized voices. She is an inspiration and idol for transgender people of colors everywhere and she continues to fight for injustices in the time that we desperately need it.
Watch her speech from 2017 during the Women’s March in Washington and how Mock references on her inspirations, Audre Lorde.
8. Elliot Page
Elliot Page is a Canadian actor and producer. He made the list not only because he is a talented artist and important LGBTQ+ advocate, Page has one of the most moving and important coming-out speeches recorded.
In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign hosted their Time to Thrive Conference and Page took the opportunity to speak about his own bravery and identity. As you can hear his voice shake and his body hesitant, Page works up the courage and becomes a model for younger communities struggling with coming to terms with their own identity.
Watch it here: Ellen Page joins Time to Thrive Conference
Update: Page came out as transgender and nonbinary in late 2020 and goes by he/they pronouns.
9. Sarah McBride
Sarah McBride is a LGBTQ+ activist and the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. She is a transgender advocate and Democratic candidate for a seat in the Delaware Senate. McBride is poised to be the first transgender state senator in the United States (make sure to vote this coming November!).
McBride made history as the first transgender speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, making waves for the trans and nonbinary communities. Watch the video here.
10. Mayor Lori Lightfoot
The last speaker you should know about hits closer to Southern Illinois than usual. Lori Lightfoot is the mayor of Chicago since 2019 and is a powerful speaker with an even more powerful message. In January of 2020, Lightfoot made an emotional speech during the City Council debate when the topic that was being addressed was approval on acknowledging LGBT business enterprises in the city.
Lightfoot is a proud lesbian woman who uses this opportunity to speak for the marginalized voices that are often unheard in decision-making processes. Here is her emotional speech to the City Council:
Lightfoot makes emotional speech at City Council Debate
There are so many LGBTQ+ activists and revolutionary speeches that are not included in this list. Everyday more voices are added. This is only a starting point of the advocacy work every person should know about.
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Speaker's Center Director