Four LGBTQ Icons Who Influenced Social Work


History is full of LGBTQ activists who have put their lives on the line to help make the future equal and fair for all. Consider these four LGBTQ trailblazers whose work has directly influenced social services.

What Is Pride Month?

Originally dubbed “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in 1999 and 2000 by President Bill Clinton and then “LGBT Pride Month” by President Barack Obama, Pride Month serves as a reminder for the wider world of the achievements and visibility of the American LGBTQ community. (LGBTQ stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.”)

Understanding how far we have come with LGBTQ rights—as well as the challenges that still lie ahead—is crucial for health and human services. Sexual orientation and gender identity are key social determinants of health. They, along with other variables (i.e., socioeconomic status, neighborhood safety, access to transportation), help us better understand the unique needs that individuals and communities face.

LGBTQ individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience adverse mental health conditions (including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation) than their heterosexual counterparts. Many rely on social services to make ends meet.

Homelessness, food insecurity, and domestic violence are often common experiences for queer people (also a catch-all phrase for LGBTQ) in the United States.

One of Eccovia’s partners, Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network (JASMYN) 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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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 women’s suffrage, social equality, and the abolition of slavery. 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 women’s suffrage. Susan would eventually pass away just 14 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 US-minted 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 1900s. 

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 ’80s and ’90s. A gay man in New York City, Kramer witnessed many of his queer friends and family succumb to complications from HIV.

Determined to fight for better healthcare for LGBTQ people, Kramer co-established advocacy groups including the Gay Men’s 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 2000s, 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 now routinely check on patients’ 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 Protester and Transgender 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 LGBTQ movement, though she is also an iconic activist in her own right. She is sometimes credited for starting the so-called Stonewall Riot, though she herself has denied such claims. Johnston was, however, part of the Stonewall Riot and helped fight for LGBTQ 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 or 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’ 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—or at least mitigate—discrimination in public housing, employment, and accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many of the adverse obstacles queer individuals face is due to illegal discrimination on the basis of their 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 later assassinated in San Francisco City Hall by another city official.

Harvey Milk may well be one of the most famous LGBTQ politicians in American history.

The Future of LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ people face, the better that social-service organizations can address and care for those communities.

Eccovia is proud to celebrate LGBTQ Pride 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 integrate social determinants of health to provide whole-person care. Reach out to our team of experts today for a free demo.

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