February is LGBT+ History Month, which celebrates the dynamic, yet often hidden history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals.
We've compiled a list of our favourite queer leaders of the Sexual Revolution. While they may queer, their work and activism has benefited everyone's sex lives through improved education and the reduction of stigma around sexuality.
Karl Henrich Ulrichs (1825 – 1895)
Karl Henrich Ulrichs was a German writer and forerunner of the Gay Rights Movement which would become central to the Sexual Liberation Movement of the 20th century. He was the first known theorist to study homosexuality academically and was keen to highlight its disconnection to paedophilia – two things which were often lumped together at the time. On August 29th 1867, Ulrichs, who was openly gay himself (and had even lost his job for it), became the first person to speak publicly in defence of homosexuality. He did so by pleading in front of the Congress of German Jurists to repeal Germany’s anti-homosexual laws. His plea was unsuccessful, but Ulrichs’ writings about sexuality paved the way for improved sexual freedoms for straight and gay couples alike.
Edith Lees Ellis (1861 – 1916)
Edith Lees Ellis was a British author who grew up in a Catholic convent outside of Manchester. In 1887, she met her husband Havelock Ellis, an anthropologist who wrote about human sexuality. Their relationship was deemed unconventional at the time as the couple often lived in separate homes and Edith was a lesbian who pursued various relationships with other women. Before the idea of the Sexual Revolution was on anyone's mind, Ellis was already a frequent contributor to The Freewoman journal which explored the sexual liberation of woman during the 1910s. Ellis often wrote about the benefits of having an open relationship with her husband, which would eventually lead to greater acceptance of polyamory in British Society - we're still working on it!
Alfred Kinsey (1894 – 1956)
While Alfred Kinsey’s work is often seen as controversial and maybe not the most accurate by today's standards, there's no doubt that it greatly improved our understanding of human sexuality and how we interact with each other in the bedroom. Kinsey, who was bisexual, worked as a biologist, zoologist and sexologist. In 1947, he founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University – the first of its kind in the world. The studies often included literally watching participants and sex workers in bed together – what a day job! Kinsey’s department published Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953). Both publications are fairly outdated, but they would be used to usher in the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 70s through their in-depth exploration of what turns us on.
Chuck Holmes (1945 – 2000)
At a young age, Chuck Holmes left his quiet rural town for San Francisco where he came out as gay at the height of the Sexual Revolution. Noting a total lack of diversity in porn, Holmes founded Falcon Studios in 1971 which was one of the first producers and distributors of gay pornography in the world. Falcon Studios was also the first company to switch from film to videocassettes and still exists today, though the VHS tapes might be hard to come by. Holmes was also heavily involved with philanthropy and founded the Human Rights Campaign in 1980 as an advocate for better education around HIV. There's no doubt that Holmes revolutionised the adult industry through his film work but sadly he also fell victim to the HIV crisis which was prevalent amongst the porn scene at the time. Holmes passed away from AIDS-related complications in 2000.
Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002)
In 1961, transgender activist Sylvia Rivera ran away from home at the age of 10 and found a community with sex workers and drag queens in Greenwich Village, New York. Along with fellow sex worker Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera is credited with initiating the 1969 Stonewall Riots that lasted for 5 days and sparked the Gay Rights Movement of the 1970s. In 1970, the pair co-founded the activist organisation STAR - Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (now Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries) which advocated for trans youth and sex worker rights in New York. Today, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project exists as an organisation that “works to guarantee all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income and race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence”.
Buck Angel is a popular male trans film actor and founder of Buck Angel Entertainment. From 2010 – 2016, Angel served on the Board of Directors of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation which fights for sexual freedom as a fundamental human right through advocacy and education. While appearing in Cirque Noir, Angel became the first trans man to be featured in an all-male film produced by a company specialising in gay male porn. Angel still does some filming, but now works mostly in sex education and tours globally speaking about human sexuality. He coined the catchphrase "it's not what's between your legs that defines you" and his video series "Bucking the System" re-defines traditional understandings of gender by educating his audience about identity politics and gender fluidity.
Rachel Venning & Claire Cavanah
In 1993, these two badass lesbians founded Toys in Babeland (Babeland since 2005) in Seattle, Washington. They wanted to create a store with a more relaxed vibe (pun intended!) where, women in particular, would feel more comfortable shopping for their own needs. Their sex toys are not just for the LGBT+ community though, they’ve got all of us covered! “In our [initial] naivety, we thought sex toy [stores] were already serving men, but they weren’t,” Cavanah said. “That became clear to us very, very quickly.” Babeland has recently formed a partnership with A is For, an organisation that serves as an ally and advocate for reproductive rights across the globe.
This is just a tiny handful of the queer individuals out there revolutionising how we have sex - many of whom, have been working on it for centuries. LGBT+ History Month is the perfect time to celebrate how far we've come and how far we have to go.
Want to learn more about these and other Sexual Revolution rebels? Read more here!