Trans Awareness Week - Lessons in Trans History

This week is Trans Awareness week, and here at the Student Union we are celebrating Trans pioneers of history!

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Trans Awareness Week

Trans Awareness Week is an important time to raise visibility of issues that the community face, remembering and celebrating groundbreaking activism as well as uplifting and honoring the trans community. It is also a time for cis allies to show their support through advocacy and solidarity as well as campaigning to spread awareness.

Come with us as we celebrate some notable Trans+ people in history - true trailblazers and pioneers for the community who have fought for rights and broken down social barriers!

Trans women in history  

Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera  

Marsha left New Jersey after graduating from high school with 15$ and a bag of clothes and moved to New York City. Sylvia ran away from home in Puerto Rico at 11 years old after experiencing abuse at home for experimenting with her gender identity and she reached New York and met Marsha, where they both embarked on a lifelong friendship of love, support and activism.  

Marsha and Syvlia were both pioneers in the LGBTQ+ rights movement as well as integral to the uprising against police brutality at Stonewall in 1969. 

In 1970, the founded STAR - Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries, particularly homeless trans youth who needed a safe place to live where they are able to be themselves.  

Marsha was a prominent figure in Act Up! demonstrations, raising awareness of the aids epidemic. Tragically, she died under suspicious circumstances in 1992, with their being outrage from the community that her death wasn’t investigated fully by the police and disregarded. In 2012 her caese was reopened.  

Her legacy lives on and she is persistently celebrated as an LGBTQ+ icon and pioneer of LGBTQ+ rights. The Marsha P Johnson Institute was founded in her name in response to the ‘vastly unreported’ and nationwide epidemic murders of black trans women in America.  

Sylvia sadly died of Cancer 10 years later in 2002 with her partner Julia by her side. Her important advocacy inspired a group of people to set up the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), which helps LGBTQ+ people access legal aid, social and health services. 

Trans Men in history  

Lou Sullivan

Lou Sullivan was a historian, community organiser, published author and founding member of the GLBT historical society. 

Lou was crucial in developing networks to help enable trans men to connect with each other as he had noticed a lack of visibility of trans men, even in queer and trans spaces. 

Lou fought tirelessly against healthcare organizations to recognize Trans men, and most notably gay trans men, delivering speeches at medical conferences to professionals. He is thought of to be the first publicly out gay trans man and his work is celebrated as a crucial step in separating gender and sexuality as two separate constructs.  

His activism was born out of a very real day-to-day struggle of him accessing healthcare as he was persistently access due to his sexual orientation. After receiving a rejected from Stanford University’s Gender Dysphoria Clinic, Sullivan wrote, “The general human populace is made up of many sexual persuasions — it is incredible that your program requires all transsexuals to be of one fabric.” 

From 1979 to 1980, he was the editor of The Gateway Gender Alliance newsletter, a resource that was for trans people but specifically for trans men.  

He published two book and also kept diaries throughout his whole transition which he intended on having published after he died in order to continue spreading awareness and creating yet another resource for trans men.  

After walking in San Francisco pride in 1984, Lou wrote in his diary:

“The first time I can say I actually felt I 'marched in the parade. ' My opened shirt blew in the wind — the sun tanning my stomach — feeling lean and alive and beautiful — saying I am a man — saying I love men.” 

After his untimely death from AIDs complications in 1991, they were published under the name ‘We both laughed in pleasure’.  

Lou and his work continue to be celebrated to this day and he will forever be remembered and hailed as a trailblazer in the community. 

Non-Binary and Gender Queer people in history 


Self-proclaimed ‘disco queen’ Sylvester challenged the gender binary with his image, soaring falsetto vocals and their fabulous image in the 1970's. At the time, the queer community was very much focused around white, masculine gay men, however Sylvester was proudly and openly gay person of colour, loudly gender non conforming and not afraid to stand out from the rest. He regularly used multiple pronouns when referring to himself in his music, such as his cover of Shirley Bassey's 'I (who have nothing'.

He famously collaborated with disco legend Patrick Cowley, creating LGBTQ+ club classics such as ‘You make me feel (mighty real)’ and ‘Do you wanna funk’, with them dedicating their 1983 album ‘Call me’ to those who had already died of AIDs, with Patrick Cowley being among the first 1,000 people to pass away.  

Sylvester tragically passed away in 1988 from AIDs complications, leaving his royalties to two AIDs charities - Project Open Hand and the AIDs Emergency Fund.

Judith Butler 

Philosopher and Gender Studies scholar Judith Butler’s list of seminal work includes the 1990 ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’ and the 1993 ‘Bodies That Matter’. They have greatly influenced the development of cultural theory, continental philosophy, gender studies and intersectional feminism. Their contributions across other disciplines has also been significant, with a career spanning across psychoanalytic studies, performance art, film and 

They continue to have a great impact with their LGBTQ+ activism today, speaking out against transphobia and also campaigning for human rights.



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