17 Powerful Female Figures In LGBT History Who’ll Inspire You With Their Amazing Stories


You know most of the key figures in LGBT history who basically changed the course of history with their strong activism and solidarity. What you probably don’t know is the stories of badass figures who gave absolutely no f*cks about society’s norms and inspired us with their own personal stories more than any street protest ever could! Here are 17 of those LGBT women and their inspiring life stories!

1. Tallulah Bankhead (1902–68)

Tallulah Bankhead was an American bisexual actor who was romantically linked to Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, and Marlene Dietrich and had a relationship with actor Patsy Kelly. Bankhead nearly died following a radical hysterectomy to cure an STI. Afterward, she said to her doctor, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson!”   😎

2. Anne Lister (1791–1840)

Anne Lister (1791–1840)
Anne Lister (1791–1840)

Lister was a British landowner who kept extensively coded diaries detailing her personal life. Her first relationship was with a school friend called Eliza Raine and was followed by an affair with fellow pupil Mariana Belcombe. She then got married to a wealthy heiress called Ann Walker, but of course, it wasn’t recognized legally. This marriage caused an uproar in polite society, but they were both rich and simply didn’t give a f*ck.


3. Gladys Bentley (1907–60)

Gladys Bentley was a blues singer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s. She used to appear onstage as an openly lesbian drag king and was later backed by a chorus line of drag queens. Her act involved making up her own (much raunchier) lyrics to popular songs and singing them to women in the audience in a sexy, gravelly voice.

4. Hannah Snell (1723–92)

Snell disguised herself as a man after her husband abandoned her, and served in the British Navy. While in Carlisle for maneuvers, she was asked to find a prostitute for her commanding officer, but turned the tables and became intimate with the lady in question herself. She also reportedly slept with a bunch of women in Lisbon when her ship pulled into port there.

5. Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs (1900–93)

Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs (1900–93)
Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs (1900–93)

Joe Carstairs was the British daughter of a rich American heiress. Born in Mayfair in 1903, she used her money to build a career as a world-class powerboat racer. She was openly lesbian, dressed in men’s clothing, and had a relationship with Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece, who she lived with for a time in Paris. She also had affairs with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and our good friend Tallulah Bankhead.

6. Alla Nazimova (1879–1945)

Alla Nazimova (1879–1945)
Alla Nazimova (1879–1945)

Alla Nazimova was a silent movie star and stage actor who openly had relationships with women. She held lavish, sexy parties at her Sunset Boulevard mansion, and coined the phrase “sewing circle” to describe closeted lesbian and bisexual women in Hollywood, with whom she had multiple affairs. She lived with fellow actor Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death.

7. Ruth Ellis (1899–2000)

Ruth Ellis was the oldest-known “open” lesbian when she died at the age of 100! She came out when she was just 16, graduated high school in spite of considerable adversity, and set up a successful printing business. She met her partner of 30 years, Ceciline, in the 1920s, and their Detroit home became a welcome refuge for African-American gays and lesbians. A true legend!

8. Natalie Clifford Barney (1876–1972)

Barney was an American playwright who lived in Paris, opposed monogamy, and devoted a lot of her time to getting it on with some of the most famous women of the era, including writer Élisabeth de Gramont, aka the Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre, and, once again, Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece (proving the lesbian world was just as small in those days as it is today).

9. Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

Although she is mostly remembered for her affair with Virginia Woolf, English poet Vita Sackville-West had an even more passionate relationship with her friend Violet Trefusis, documented in a series of heated letters between the pair. They eloped several times, once to Paris, and created quite a bit of scandal. They also forbade each other from sleeping with their own husbands.

10. Cha-U-Kao (?)

Cha-U-Kao (?)
Cha-U-Kao (?)

Cha-U-Kao was a Parisian clown and entertainer regularly performed at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s. She was a favorite subject of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted a variety of intimate scenes showing Cha-U-Kao with her female lovers. He was reportedly fascinated by her confidence, the fact she was so open about her homosexuality, and her decision to choose a “male” profession (clowning).

11. Roberta Cowell (1918–2011)

Roberta Cowell was a British World War II fighter pilot and Grand Prix racing driver who was born male and became (in 1951) one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. After her surgery, she was no longer allowed to compete in Grand Prix racing, but she continued to be active in motor racing and won the 1957 Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb. *Applauds*

12. Llangollen Hanımları (1739–1831)

The Ladies of Llangollen were two aristocratic Irish lovers, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who ran away from their upper-class households as teenagers. They set up a home together in a Welsh mansion and devoted themselves to academic studies and gardening. Their fame gradually spread, and they were visited by writers like Byron and Shelley, as well as Anne Lister. Small world, etc.

13. Audre Lorde (1934–92)

Audre Lorde (1934–92)
Audre Lorde (1934–92)

Audre Lorde was an African-American writer, civil rights activist, and a badass lesbian who worked to confront issues of racism in the fledgling feminist movement. She was outspoken in her approach and wasn’t afraid to engage in open disagreements with notable white feminists, which led to some people labeling her an outsider, but she refused to be silenced and didn’t give up.

14. Mary Benson (1841–1918)

Mary Benson (1841–1918)
Mary Benson (1841–1918)

Mary Benson was a well-known hostess and society darling who was married to the archbishop of Canterbury. She also had multiple affairs with women, including a four-year relationship with a young, pretty composer named Ethel Smyth, who was also dating Benson’s daughter Nellie. But Benson magnanimously stepped aside in favor of her daughter. What a nice mom. ☺☺

15. Jane Addams (1860–1935)

Jane Addams (1860–1935)
Jane Addams (1860–1935)

Jane Addams was an influential figure in the American women’s suffrage movement. She was also romantically involved with several women over her lifetime, most significantly with Mary Rozet Smith, who she shared a house with. The women wrote to each other constantly when apart, and the letters show they saw themselves as a loving married couple.

16. Lady Una Troubridge (1887–1963)

Una Troubridge was the partner of the better-known lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall. Hall was dating Troubridge’s aunt Mabel Batton when they first met, but after Batton died they hooked up, lived together very openly, and remained a couple until Hall’s death in 1943, despite some serious lesbo drama in 1934 when Hall had an affair with a Russian nurse called Evgenia Souline.

17. Mercedes de Acosta (1893–1968)

Mercedes de Acosta was a Spanish/Cuban-American poet and novelist who is possibly best-known for her long-term affair with Greta Garbo. De Acosta also proudly shagged her way around Hollywood during the silent movie era, was involved with Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina, and is reputed to have said, “I can get any woman away from any man.”

This article was originally published on Buzzfeed.

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