Celebrating the LGBTQ+ change-drivers throughout history

7 min read | Aaron Barry | Article | DE&I | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Celebrating the LGBTQ+ change-drivers throughout history

The decade-spanning fight for LBGTQ+ equality has been a long and bumpy road. We’ve celebrated countless overdue wins – but also crushing setbacks – along the way. The battle is far from over; for as long as the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination, hate crimes and injustice, we must keep driving change. However, we’re a long way from where we were and it’s important to celebrate the victories we’ve had so far. 

February marks LGBT+ History Month in the UK. Although not officially celebrated in Ireland, it’s still a time for the LGBTQ+ community to reflect on the vital progress that’s been made throughout history. So, let’s take a look back on just some of the many people from the LGBTQ+ community involved in driving change, the adversity they have faced along the way, and whose efforts have helped us get to where we are today.


Marsha P Johnson – The early gay rights movement 

One of the most renowned figures of the gay rights movement in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s was Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha used she/her pronouns and self-identified as gay, a drag queen and a transvestite (the term transgender wasn’t widely used at the time). 

Marsha played a role in the Stonewall Uprising – a key moment in LGBTQ+ history that led to a huge surge in the gay rights movement. She then joined several activist groups but soon branched out as result of the transphobia that was prevalent in the early gay rights movement. Marsha and her friend Sylvia Rivera created Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which was dedicated to finding shelter for homeless transgender youths. She made a huge difference to the lives of many LGBTQ+ individuals throughout her life, and her impact has continued far beyond her death in 1992. 


David Norris – The decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland on 24th June 1993 – a momentous, long-awaited victory for LGBTQ+ people across the county. This was largely down to the immense efforts of David Norris, a former university lecturer and now Ireland’s longest serving senator, having served 36 years before his recent retirement. He was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in Ireland, but that’s far from his most notable achievement. 

In 1977, David began a lengthy legal battle to argue that the criminalisation of homosexual acts breached his right to privacy, first losing his case in the High Court, then again in the Supreme Court. Finally, 11 years after he first began legal proceedings, The European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour, which subsequently laid the foundations for the decriminalisation of homosexuality five years later.


Elton John – Icon, AIDs activist and change-driver

As well as having an incredibly successful music career, Elton John has dedicated much of his life to driving change for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly supporting AIDs education and prevention. In 1992, he established the Elton John AIDs Foundation, which has since raised more than $400 million and is the number one philanthropic funder for HIV and AIDs across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

Elton John has also been an advocate for marriage equality, frequently speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. He and his husband, David Furnish, became one of the first couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK, doing so on the first day the Civil Partnership Act came into force. They then got married in 2014, the same year that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act took effect in the UK. 


Rory O'Neill (AKA Panty Bliss) – Supported the marriage equality referendum in Ireland 

Rory O’Neill (AKA Panti Bliss) is arguably the most famous drag queen in Ireland. He shot into national treasure territory in 2014 when – in response to being sued for calling out the homophobia of several Irish journalists – he gave a powerful speech on stage at The Abbey Theatre. The video went viral, garnering 200,000 views in just 24 hours.

Rory subsequently used his platform to help spearhead the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland leading up to the referendum. Ultimately, this helped us achieve a landmark victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland, as we became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a referendum.


We must keep driving change

Reflecting on the massive impact these activists have had on the lives of LGBTQ+ people serves as inspiration for us all to keep up the momentum in our fight for true equality – whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally. 

Here at Hays, we have a large UK&I Pride Network, which gives our LGBTQ+ staff and their allies the time and resources needed to discuss Pride activity throughout the year. This helps to promote a sense of belonging and gives LGBTQ+ employees a voice when it comes to important conversations such as HR policies. Our ongoing DE&I strategy and dedicated resources also support the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion all year-round – beyond just awareness days. 

To ensure your workplace is an inclusive and welcoming place for all, including the LGBTQ+ community, then take a look at our diversity, equity and inclusion advisory services

About this author

Aaron Barry, Marketing Manager, Ireland and Co-Chair of the Hays UK & Ireland Pride Network

Aaron is a Marketing Manager on our UK and Ireland Marketing Planning and Strategy team. He oversees all marketing activity for the Irish market, developing brand growth strategies at local, national and regional levels that align with Hays Global marketing strategy. Aaron is passionate about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, sitting as Co-Chair of our UK and Ireland LGBTQ+ Pride Network and a member of the Ireland DE&I Council.

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