International Women's Day 2023: Celebrating Inspirational LGBTQ+ Women
International Women's Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and to recognize their contributions to society. This year, we want to highlight five inspirational LGBTQ+ women whose lives and work have had a lasting impact on the world: Frida Kahlo, Eve Sedgwick, Audre Lorde, Edie Windsor, and Sappho.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who is celebrated for her self-portraits and works depicting Mexican culture and society. She was born in 1907 in Mexico City and suffered from polio as a child. Later, at the age of 18, she was involved in a serious bus accident that caused her lifelong pain and health problems. During her recovery, she began painting, and her work was influenced by her experiences as a woman, a Mexican, and someone living with chronic pain. Kahlo's art often explores themes of gender, identity, and politics, and she is recognised as an important figure in 20th-century art. In recent years, Kahlo has also been recognized as an icon in the LGBTQ+ community, with some scholars suggesting that she was bisexual and that her work reflects this aspect of her identity.
Kahlo's personal life was marked by romantic relationships with both men and women, including the American artist and photographer, Nickolas Muray. Kahlo's art also explored themes related to gender and sexuality, and she is known for challenging traditional gender roles and social expectations in her self-portraits. In one of her most famous works, "The Two Fridas," she portrays two versions of herself, one wearing traditional feminine clothing and the other in a man's suit. The two figures hold hands, and their hearts are exposed, with one heart being broken and the other intact. Kahlo's work and life have inspired many in the LGBTQ+ community, and her legacy continues to influence art, culture, and politics around the world.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was an American scholar, critic, and writer who is widely regarded as one of the founders of queer studies. Born in 1950 in Dayton, Ohio, Sedgwick earned her PhD from Yale University in 1975 and went on to teach at several prestigious universities, including Duke and CUNY. She is perhaps best known for her contributions to the development of queer theory, a field of study that seeks to challenge traditional conceptions of gender and sexuality.
Sedgwick's ground breaking book, "Epistemology of the Closet," published in 1990, is considered a seminal work in the field of queer theory. In this book, she argues that same-sex desire has been historically stigmatised and marginalised, leading to the formation of a "closet" in which queer individuals are forced to hide their true identities. Sedgwick also coined the term "homosocial," which refers to same-sex relationships that are not necessarily sexual but are nonetheless important to the formation of individual identity. Her work has had a profound impact on the way scholars and activists understand gender and sexuality, and she continues to be an important figure in LGBTQ+ history.
K. Kendall, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a Black lesbian feminist writer, poet, and civil rights activist. She was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrant parents and was the youngest of three daughters. Lorde's literary works focused on exploring the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class. She published 18 books of poetry and essays, including her best-known work, "The Cancer Journals," which chronicles her experiences with breast cancer and the medical industry's treatment of Black women. Lorde was also a vocal advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ rights, and was a founding member of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, which aimed to address issues affecting women in the US Virgin Islands.
Throughout her life, Lorde was known for her powerful and empowering writing, as well as her passionate activism. She was a pivotal figure in the civil rights and feminist movements, and her work continues to inspire and resonate with people today. Lorde's work often explored themes of self-acceptance, empowerment, and social justice, and her unapologetic approach to writing and activism has made her an icon in the LGBTQIA+ community. Her legacy has inspired countless people to embrace their identities and fight for equality and justice for all marginalised communities.
Edie Windsor was an LGBTQ+ activist and icon who became a symbol of the fight for marriage equality in the United States. Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, she studied mathematics at Temple University and later worked as a computer programmer at IBM. In 1963, she met Thea Spyer, and the two fell in love and began a lifelong partnership. After over four decades together, the couple finally married in Canada in 2007. When Spyer passed away two years later, Windsor was denied the federal tax exemption on Spyer's estate that was granted to heterosexual couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Windsor decided to challenge DOMA in court and filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour in United States v. Windsor, striking down a key provision of DOMA and granting same-sex couples federal recognition for the first time. This landmark decision paved the way for further progress in the fight for marriage equality, and Windsor became a prominent figure in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. She continued to speak out and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights until her death in 2017, and her legacy continues to inspire and empower the LGBTQ+ community.
Sappho is an ancient Greek poet, born on the island of Lesbos around 630 BCE. She is known for her lyric poetry, which often explored themes of love and desire, particularly between women. Though much of her work has been lost, what remains has had a significant impact on both literature and queer history. In fact, the term “lesbian” is derived from the name of her birthplace, Lesbos. Sappho’s poetry, which was widely celebrated in her time, continues to be studied and appreciated today for its beauty and its representation of same-sex love.
As a woman writing about love and desire between women, Sappho was an important figure in the history of LGBTQ+ representation. Her work has been used as a source of inspiration by countless queer writers and activists throughout the centuries. She is also an example of how queer identity has been present throughout history, even if it has not always been fully acknowledged or accepted by mainstream society. Sappho’s legacy is a reminder of the richness and diversity of queer history, and of the power of art to both reflect and shape our understanding of the world.
The lives and work of Frida Kahlo, Eve Sedgwick, Audre Lorde, Edie Windsor, and Sappho are just a few examples of the many ways that women have contributed to the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and representation. Each of these women, in her own way, defied societal norms and paved the way for future generations to live more authentic and fulfilling lives. On International Women’s Day 2023, we celebrate their legacies and honour their contributions to our shared history. As we continue to work towards a more just and equitable world, we draw inspiration from these women and from all the incredible women who have come before and alongside us.
To learn more about International Women's Day visit their website at https://www.internationalwomensday.com/