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7 Real-life lesbian love stories that changed the world we live in today

Rachael Fulton December 1, 2016
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Throughout history, lesbians have fought for the rights of LGBTQi people in classrooms, courtrooms and in streets around the globe.

Here are some of the lesbian couples who helped change history.

1. The Daughters

Back in 1955 San Francisco, it was illegal to dance with someone of the same sex in public. Lesbian bars were also subject to raids, harassment and abuse.

To combat this, lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon co-founded the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the US, The Daughters of Bilitis.

Del and Phyllis spent the next 50 years fighting for gay rights and were the first same-sex couple to wed in California in 2008, just before Del passed away.

2. The couple torn apart by tragedy

In the ’80s Karen Thompson and Sharon Kowalski enjoyed a happy, private life together in Minnesota, but had not come out to their families. Their lives were torn apart when a drunk driver ploughed into Sharon, leaving her with an irreversible brain injury.

What followed was a decade-long battle for Karen to take care of Sharon. Sharon’s parents refused to admit their daughter was gay and banned Karen from visiting her nursing home.

Even when Sharon learned how to type messages to communicate, and frequently begged to be returned to Karen, the courts refused.

In 1991, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in the landmark case ‘Guardianship of Kowalski’ that Sharon could go home to be with Karen. Karen’s tireless campaigning raised awareness of guardianship issues and advanced the rights of same-sex couples.

3. The AIDS nurse and the activist

Roma Guy and Diane Jones co-founded the San Francisco Women’s Building in 1979 and fought for social justice together for decades.

Diane worked as an HIV/AIDs nurse during the ’70s, helping on the frontline of the epidemic, and together with wife Roma dedicated their lives to improving rights for women and LGBT people, as well as educating about the HIV crisis. Their efforts will be documented in HBO’s ‘When We Rise’ documentary.

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4.The couple that took on the Defense of Marriage Act

Despite rejection and lack of support from LGBT groups, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin refused to back down on their fight for same-sex marriage in Oklahoma.

Their landmark legal crusade lasted over a decade and went to the Supreme Court, eventually triggering the legalisation of same-sex marriage in several states and allowing the two women to get married.

5.Early activists

Born in 1899, Ruth Ellis was a prominent ‘out’ woman of colour and lived for an incredible 101 years.

She and partner Babe Franklin lived together as lovers as early as the 1920s, and Ellis became the first female to own a printing business in Michigan. Their home became a hang-out for African-American LGBT people in an era in which discrimination was rife.

The Ruth Ellis Center was established in 1999 as a youth social services agency with a mission ‘to provide short-term and long-term residential safe space and support services for runaway, homeless, and at-risk lesbian, gay, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.’

Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100

Born July 23, 1899, in Springfield, Illinois, Ruth Ellis was the oldest “out” African American lesbian known. The film offers a rare opportunity to experience a century of our American history as lived by one inspiring woman.

6.Raising hell

Mina Meyer and Sharon Raphael were together for over 40 years. Within their life together they campaigned for lesbian health services, championed AIDS hospices and rallied for same-sex marriage to name but a few crusades.

To combat religious groups picketing LGBT events with ‘Gay People Burn In Hell’ signs, the couple proudly wore ‘Dykes from Hell’ T-shirts at rallies.

They never gave up the fight for LGBT rights, and in later years set up a group for lesbian and gay seniors to care for the LGBT elderly. Mina passed away in 2016.

7. Preserving Lesbian Herstory

Then-partners Joan Nestle and Deb Edel founded The Lesbian Herstory Archives, a way of preserving lesbian documents and artefacts, from the pantry of their apartment in 1974. Today it holds more than 20,000 books and 12,000 photographs relating to lesbian history.

Related topics: Americas, Gay rights, herstory, lesbian, lesbian couple, LGBT, LGBT rights, love wins, marriage equality, same sex marriage, US

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