Four LGBT Icons Who Influenced Social Work


October is National LGBT History Month. History is full of queer activists who have put their lives on the line to help make the future equal and fair for all. Consider these four LGBT trailblazers whose work has directly influenced the way health and human service organizations practice social work.

What is LGBTQ History Month?

October is LGBT History Month. Established in 1994, it serves as an opportunity to celebrate and honor the important work that queer activists have done to make our communities safer for all. 

Understanding how far we have come with LGBT rights–as well as the challenges that still lay ahead–is crucial for health and human services. Sexual orientation and gender identity are key social determinants of health. They, along with a myriad of other variables (such as socio-economic status, neighborhood quality, access to transportation, for example), help us better understand the unique needs that individuals and communities face.

LGBT individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience adverse mental health conditions (including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation) than their heterosexual counterparts. They face disproportionate amounts of discrimination and stigma, and many rely on social services to make ends meet. Homelessness, food insecurity, and domestic violence are often common experiences for queer people in the United States.

One of Eccovia’s partners, JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network) works to directly address the issues that queer youth in their area face. You can check out some of the important work they are doing here.

Activists Who Have Influenced Social Work

Fortunately, there have been countless individuals, organizations, and communities that have worked (and continue to work) to bridge this gap in social service care for LGBT people. Many of these activists risked their own lives to make circumstances better for the future.

Check out our profiles on four of these activists, whose efforts have helped shape social work into a more inclusive and informed practice. Their work continues to influence how we address LGBT issues among health and human service organizations.

Susan B. Anthony – Suffragette and Feminist

Trump to posthumously pardon Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) was a champion of the women’s rights movement and worked tirelessly for the causes of suffrage, social equality, and abolition. Born into a Quaker family, she was raised in Massachusetts before moving to New York to pursue legal rights for women to vote. She and her partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, created the American Equal Rights Association to help further their goals of suffrage. Susan would eventually pass away just fourteen years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States.

Susan is perhaps one of the most famous lesbians in American History–in 1979, she became the first woman to be printed on a U.S. coin. 

Susan’s groundbreaking work on equality paved the road for social work to come into fruition. Her efforts to bring women to the same standing as their male counterparts helped social workers like Jane Addams gain support for her social work initiatives, such as her settlement houses in Chicago in the early 1900’s. 

Larry Kramer – Writer and HIV/AIDS Activist

Larry Kramer, Playwright and Outspoken AIDS Activist, Dies at 84 - The New  York Times

Larry Kramer (1935 – 2020) was a famous writer and outspoken activist for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s. A gay man in New York City, Kramer witnessed many of his queer friends and family succumb to complications with HIV. Determined to fight for better healthcare for LGBT people, Kramer co-established advocacy groups including the Gay Mens Health Crisis (GMHC) and The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). 

Larry coined the phrase, “SILENCE = DEATH”, which became the logo for the AIDS movement.

In the early 2000’s Kramer himself was diagnosed with HIV. He once said in an interview, “we shouldn’t face a death sentence because of who we are or who we love”. His work on HIV/AIDS care is now integral in health and human services. Social workers routinely check on patient HIV status and help those living with HIV receive life-saving medications.

Other social work organizations, such as Ryan White programs, now serve our communities as a direct result of the work Larry Kramer did. 

Marsha P Johnston – Stonewall Riot and Trans Icon

Real story of Marsha P Johnson - and what happened at Stonewall riots -  Mirror Online

Marsha P Johnston (1945 – 1992) is sometimes known as the “Rosa Parks of the LGBT Movement”, though she is also an iconic activist in her own right. She is sometimes credited for starting the Stonewall Riot, though she herself has denied such claims. Johnston was, however, a part of the Stonewall Riot and helped fight for LGBT civil rights.

While Marsha is usually considered a transgender activist, trans was not a term commonly used during her lifetime. She did, however, identify as a “transvestite”, “drag queen”, and used she/her pronouns. As such, she is regarded as a prominent trans leader.

Johnston’s efforts to be visible and open about her identity are still having ripple effects today, especially in health and human services. Transgender individuals face more violence and discrimination than most other groups, and their unique challenges have helped shape the practice of whole person care. The realm of social work is adapting to be more inclusive of all gender identities, through practices such as multiple gender options for intake surveys.

Harvey Milk – Politician and Civil Rights Pioneer

Forty years after his death, Harvey Milk's legacy still lives on

Harvey Milk (1930 – 1978) was the first openly gay official elected in the state of California. He served for a period of 11 months, during which he worked on policies that would end discrimination in public housing, employment, and accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Much of the adverse social determinants of health that queer individuals face is due to illegal discrimination on the basis of their LGBT identity; Milk’s efforts to legally protect sexual orientation have helped shape efforts to push back against such practices.

Milk is known for saying, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.” He was assassinated in City Hall by another city official.

Harvey may well be one of the most famous–and certainly one of the most historical–LGBT politicians in American History. Today, there are thousands of LGBT officials across the U.S., working together to make social services more accessible to queer communities. 

The Future of LGBT Care in Social Work

These four profiles are just a few of the many people who have helped shape social work into a more inclusive practice. The more we learn about the unique challenges that LGBT people face, the better that health and human service organizations can address and care for those communities.

Eccovia is proud to celebrate LGBT History Month and to work with partners dedicated to equality for all. ClientTrack®, our industry-leading case management platform, is designed to help social service organizations maximize their potential, communicate with other organizations, and utilize social determinants of health to provide whole person care. Reach out to our team of experts today for a free demo.

Images used in this blog post are sourced directly from Google Images.

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