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20 influential queer women to celebrate on International Women’s Day 2020

Lily Wakefield March 8, 2020
International Women's Day 2018

Demonstrators hold placards on International Women's Day on March 8, 2018 in London, England. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)

International Women’s Day is celebrated globally every year on March 8, and on Sunday the world marks the social, economic and political achievements of women in history and in present day.

The International Women’s Day 2020 theme is #EachForEqual, celebrating how we can each “actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements”.

So use the hashtag, join the conversation, and take a look at this (not in any way exhaustive) list of some inspirational queer women using their visibility now to make us all more equal in the future.

Chen Arieli.

Lesbian tel aviv deputy mayor Chen Arieli
The Tel Aviv deputy mayor said the treatment of trans people was an “urgent problem.” (Chen Arieli/ Facebook)

Last year, Chen Arieli became the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel, and first openly gay person to hold the position.

Before becoming deputy mayor, Arieli was one of Israel’s most famous LGBT+ activists and was formerly the chairperson of The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force.

She has been using her platform to call out Israel’s treatment of transgender people, branding it an “urgent problem”.

Munroe Bergdorf.

International Women's Day Munroe Bergdorf arrives at The Fashion Awards 2018 In Partnership With Swarovski at Royal Albert Hall on December 10, 2018 in London, England. (Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Munroe Bergdorf arrives at The Fashion Awards 2018 In Partnership With Swarovski at Royal Albert Hall on December 10, 2018 in London, England. (Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Trans activist Munroe Bergdorf has recently battled unrelenting transphobia, and in 2019 the children’s charity Childline cut ties her following an anti-trans hate campaign, just days after she announced she was to become their first LGBT+ campaigner.

But Bergdorf was not to be beaten. Later in the year, she was named a UN Women UK advocate, supporting its #DrawALine campaign, which aims to put a stop to female genital mutilation.

She said: “I’m incredibly honoured to have been asked to work with such an incredible organisation dedicated to ending violence against ALL women and girls.”

Dutee Chand.

International Women's Day Dutee Chand speaks during a press conference in Hyderabad on September 1, 2018.. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Dutee Chand speaks during a press conference in Hyderabad on September 1, 2018.(NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty)

Dutee Chand is India’s fastest woman, and the first Indian sports star to open up about being in a same-sex relationship.

She hopes to represent India at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo but has said she wants to focus on her relationship after she has competed.

23-year-old Chand told The Indian Express that she has “found someone who is her soulmate”.

Hannah Gadsby.

Hannah Gadsby attends the 8th AACTA International Awards on January 4, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Hannah Gadsby attends the 8th AACTA International Awards on January 4, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Charley Gallay/Getty for AFI)

Tasmanian comedian Hannah Gadsby took a risk releasing her Netflix comedy special Nanette, and after the show’s approach to misogyny and homophobia, she said she was preparing for her career to be over.

Luckily, the risk paid off, and she is touring with a Nanette follow-up – Douglas. 

Gadsby uses her platform to raise awareness of autism and ADHD, both of which she has.

Roxane Gay.

Roxane Gay international women's day
Writer Roxane Gay attends the Feminist AF Panel at Vulture Festival in Los Angeles, California.(TARA ZIEMBA/AFP/Getty)

Bisexual feminist writer, professor and commentator Roxane Gay hit out at trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) in 2019, making the point they “should know better, having been marginalised as women throughout history and today”.

Speaking to the New Statesmen, she said: “The world is transphobic and I think it’s appalling, because trans women are women.

“When I see how trans people are treated and the agony that a lot of trans people deal with—the suicide rates, the murder rates of black trans women—I just think, ‘Do you really think that’s a choice?'”

Tess Holliday.

Model Tess Holliday comes out as pansexual
Tess Holliday came out as pansexual. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty for Refinery29)

Tess Holliday is one of the world’s most famous plus-sized models and body positivity activists, and she came out as pansexual in 2019.

Combatting stereotypes associated with bi and pan-erasure, Holliday is married to a man, but said that “a lot of stuff” in her life makes sense now that she knows she is pansexual.

She said: “I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to my own queerness, and I think the word pansexual speaks to me.”

Jameela Jamil.

Jameela Jamil international women's day
Jameela Jamil at the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty)

In response to criticism over her casting in a voguing show, Jameela Jamil set the record straight by coming out as queer last month – only to face a barrage of yet more criticism.

She and Phillip Schofield came out within the same 48 hours.

While Jamil continued to be attacked, Schofield was showered with praise, making a powerful point about how hard it still is to come out as a queer woman, particularly a queer woman of colour.

Claudia López.

Columbia international women's day
Claudia Lopez following her election as mayor of Bogotá (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP via Getty)

In 2019, Claudia López was elected as the first female, and first lesbian, mayor of the Colombian capital Bogotá, where LGBT+ people continue to face violence.

Shortly before taking office she married her senator girlfriend in matching white pantsuits.

She has vowed to spend her four years in office making the city “more caring, inclusive and sustainable”.

Layla Moran.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has come out as pansexual
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran came out as pansexual. (Nina Lecourt)

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, came out as pansexual this year. 

Moran is believed to be the first UK parliamentarian to come out as pansexual – though there are many out lesbian, gay and bisexual politicians in the chamber.

She criticised UK parliament as a “weird, backwards place” for LGBT+ people, but added: “We need to show these people, whether it be those who suggested I end or ‘manage’ my relationship, or those who wanted to write about it, that this is not OK.”

Janelle Monáe.

Janelle Monae didn't come out as non-binary, she was standing in solidarity
Janelle Monáe onstage in Pasadena, California, days after her Steven Universe tweet. (Amy Sussman/Getty)

American singer, actress and producer Janelle Monáe took an important stand for non-binary people this year.

While it was widely misreported that Monáe had come out as non-binary herself when she retweeted a Steven Universe GIF and the hashtag #IAmNonBinary, she later explained that she was showing solidarity with the non-binary community, and using her platform as a queer, Black artist to shed some light on a marginalised group of people.

The hashtag, which trended worldwide, was an opportunity for the non-binary community to connect, share their stories and learn from each other.

Aisha Mughal.

Aisha Mughal trans Pakistan United Nations
Aisha Mughal (R) at the United Nations convention (Twitter)

Aisha Mughal became the first openly trans person to take part in a United Nations convention on violence against women in Geneva in 2020.

Aisha Mughal, who works with the Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan, was one of the country’s delegates at the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

She said: “With all the support from the government, I feel proud to be a Pakistani transgender woman.”

Lupita Nyong’o.

Lupita Nyong’o speaks onstage at the Montecito Award Honoring Lupita Nyong’o during the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Arlington Theatre on January 20, 2020 in Santa Barbara, California. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty for SBIFF)

In 2019, Kenyan-Mexican Hollywood actress Lupita Nyong’o kissed her Black Panther co-star Danai Gurira at the Golden Globes, and was spotted canoodling with Janelle Monáe at the Met Gala.

While she has not confirmed that she identifies specifically as a queer woman, the Oscar-winner is proving that sexuality can be expressed in many different ways and that labels aren’t always important.

Lady Phyll.

Lady Phyll, co-founder of UK Black Pride. (Peccadillo Pictures)

Opoku-Gyimah — widely known as Lady Phyll – is the co-founder of UK Black Pride.

In 2019, Stonewall and UK Black Pride announced what they are dubbing a “groundbreaking partnership” to drive more support for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the LGBT+ community.

In a joint statement, UK Black Pride founder Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt said the new partnership will aim to address the inequalities faced specifically by BAME LGBT+ people.

Megan Rapinoe.

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe during the United States international friendly match against Ireland on August 3, 2019. (Shaun Clark/Getty)

One of the world’s most visible and talked-about queer women since the last International Women’s Day, Megan Rapinoe led the US women’s football team to World Cup victory in 2019 and publicly took on Donald Trump.

Her activism made headlines last summer when she clashed with Trump for telling a reporter: “I’m not going to the f**king White House.”

While the US president attacked her online, Rapinoe stood her ground and refused to be silenced on issues like the anti-LGBT+ policies of the Trump administration and homophobia in sport, insisting that it would be irresponsible not to use her international platform to effect change.

NikkieTutorials.

NikkieTutorials. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
NikkieTutorials. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Make-up guru NikkieTutorials, 25, has been vocal about her struggles to tamper the transphobia she is facing after a blackmail plot forced her to come out as trans in January 2020.

Although the Dutch YouTuber has experienced a lot of abuse since coming out, she said it allowed her to “let go and be truly free”

She was recently announced as online presenter for the Eurovision Song Contest 2020, which will take place in Rotterdam in May.

Valentina Sampaio.

Valentina Sampaio walking with a clutch in her hand
Valentina Sampaio is the first trans woman to model for Victoria’s Secret. (Getty)

Brazilian-born model Valentina Sampaio became the first-ever trans woman to model for Victoria’s Secret in 2019, despite the brand’s chief marketing officer making damaging comments about trans people the year before.

Sampaio has made a splash in the modelling world, signing up as a L’Oreal brand ambassador in 2016, and becoming the first trans woman to grace the cover of Vogue Paris in 2017.

Transgender actress Laverne Cox welcomed the representation, writing: “Wow finally!”

Caster Semenya.

Caster Semenya international women's day
Caster Semenya. (Cameron Spencer/Getty)

Intersex athlete Caster Semenya has held back time and time again, having been repeatedly barred from competing in women’s sport unless she modifies her testosterone levels.

Semenya continues to fight for her right to compete, and in 2019 she said: “If you look at my situation with International Association of Athletics Federations, these guys were like: ‘We want to control this human being.’ Of course they’ve tried, but then they’ve failed.

“How they’ve failed, they don’t know. And now they want to get rid of you. They cannot get rid of me, I’m still going to remain there.”

The Caster Semenya Foundation supports and financially empowers girls and young women, and has invested money into a menstrual cup company to help young people stay in school while on their periods.

Willow Smith.

Willow Smith international women's day
Willow Smith. (Edward Berthelot/Getty Images for Christian Dior)

Willow Smith came out to her mother and grandmother last year, saying she loves “men and women equally,” and would “definitely” consider polyamory.

She gave a crash course on polyamory to her mother, Jada, and grandmother, Adrienne, on an episode of Red Table Talk, before opening up about her sexuality, explaining that her ideal relationship would be with a man and a woman.

“Personally, male and female, that’s all I need,” she said.

Georgie Stone.

Georgie Stone Neighbours
Georgie Stone. (10 Peach)

Australian actress Georgie Stone became the first trans person to ever appear on in long-running soap Neighbours.

She has become a spokeswoman for mental-health charity Headspace, and has used her platform to hit back at anti-LGBT+ Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.

She called him out for comments he said teachers being trained in trans issues were “gender whisperers” in schools.

Stone said: “It’s ironic that his government are committed to eradicating mental illness and yet they perpetuate those same mindsets and ideals that are the reason that the statistics are so horrible.”

Cherry Vann.

Cherry Vann, the new Bishop of Monmouth
Cherry Vann, Bishop of Monmouth. (The Church in Wales/ Facebook)

Cherry Vann is a lesbian priest and the first woman to hold the position of Bishop of Monmouth in the Anglican church.

She was consecrated in front of more than 400 people in a ceremony in January, 2020.

Although she said campaigning for Anglican churches to perform same-sex marriages will not be her main mission as bishop, she added: “I hope that it is a sign of hope.

“There are a lot of gay people in our schools, in our colleges and universities, out there in society who think that the church is against them, that they don’t have a place in the church.

“I hope that being here as a gay person, in a same-sex relationship, will give those people hope and help them to see that this is something that the church embraces and is able to celebrate.”

Happy International Women’s Day 2020! 

More: #EachForEqual, 2020, international women's day, queer women, trans women are women

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