Celebrate LGBTQ+ Women’s History

Past and Present

New York City is home to generations of LGBTQ+ history, but we are more than our past. Queer and trans history is being made every day, all around us. Throughout The Center’s 40 years of existence, we have seen our community continually develop new ways to fight oppression, love one another, and live in our truths. There are countless people who guide us on these journeys—many of them women. As we continue through Women’s History Month, we have a special opportunity to recognize how LGBTQ+ women have shaped the course of our history and how they continue to do so today. Take a moment to learn about a few influential women from New York City’s rich LGBTQ+ past, and join us in celebrating some of the contemporary leaders who honor their legacy.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a prominent Black feminist, poet, and civil rights activist. She is best known for her writings that addressed issues of race, gender, sexuality, and identity. Lorde's work often explored themes of empowerment, self-acceptance, and social justice. Her essays and poetry collections, such as "The Cancer Journals" and "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name," are celebrated for their profound insights into the intersectionality of oppression and for their calls to action for marginalized communities. Lorde's legacy continues to inspire generations of activists and writers to confront injustice and advocate for equality.

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a renowned writer, professor, and commentator known for her powerful and incisive work on gender, race, identity, and culture. Her writing is marked by honesty, vulnerability, and an unflinching examination of societal norms and power dynamics. As a prominent voice in contemporary literature, she continues to challenge and inspire readers with her thought-provoking insights and advocacy for social justice. She gained widespread acclaim for her essay collection "Bad Feminist," which explores the complexities and contradictions of modern feminism. Her memoir "Hunger" delves into her personal struggles with body image and society's expectations.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha was a revolutionary Black transgender sex worker. She is known for playing an integral part in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, and was known throughout the queer community as a “drag mother” who supported the struggling youth of New York City’s West Village. She warmed many hearts with her contagious smile and generous personality, and could frequently be found in the West Village chatting with the locals adorned in a crown of flowers. During her lifetime the mainstream LGBTQ+ liberation movement often outcast people like Marsha in favor of white, cisgender icons. Today, much work has been done to correct this narrative and recognize Marsha as a key figure.

Cecilia Gentili

Cecilia Gentili was an advocate, organizer, performer, and storyteller. Like Marsha, she was known for being both a warm, caring personal mentor and a fierce activist on behalf of trans people, sex workers, and all LGBTQ+ New Yorkers who are more likely to face discrimination and violence. Cecilia focused her efforts on the intersections of sex work, trans liberation, immigration rights, and incarceration issues. She did years of direct service and policy work for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers—including here at The Center! Her leadership has helped New York to pass multiple laws that support survivors of sex trafficking, combat transphobic policing, and ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity & expression.

Achebe Powell

Achebe Powell made history as a powerful, beloved community leader during the early years of the LGBTQ+ justice movement. She was one of the first Black women to have a leadership role in the movement during the 1970’s. Based in New York, Achebe was the first Black lesbian to serve on the board of directors of the National Gay Task Force, and was a founder of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Throughout her long years of activism, she was vocal about the need for coalition-building and for the LGBTQ+ movement to also address issues of race, gender, and class.

Crystal Hudson

Crystal Hudson

Photo courtesy of Crystal Hudson Facebook Political Candidate page. Crystal is the Council Member for New York City’s District 35 in Brooklyn. She was elected in 2021—and like Achebe, she made history with this leadership role, as she is one of the first out gay Black women ever elected in New York City. Crystal is a co-chair of the Council’s LGBTQ+ caucus, and understands the multifaceted needs of our community and the issues we face. As a Council Member she has worked to address the spread of MPV, uplift Black New Yorkers, support elders, improve tenant protections, and more.

Sylvia Rivera at Gay Liberation Front’s Demonstration at Bellevue Hospital, 1970. Photo by Richard C. Wandel. Center Archive.

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a civil rights leader during the Stonewall Uprising and the decades afterward. Her unwavering advocacy for sex workers, street youth, and transgender people pushed back against harmful New York City policies and the limitations of the mainstream LGBTQ+ liberation movement. She criticized the City and the movement’s tendencies to center white, cisgender gay and lesbian experiences to the exclusion of trans and gender nonconforming people of color. Sylvia also founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970, which established a support network for New Yorkers whose needs were being excluded. This organization, which she led alongside Marsha P. Johnson, was dedicated to providing food, shelter, and affirming space to young trans people and people on the streets.

Mariah Lopez

Mariah Lopez

Mariah Lopez is the executive director of Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR). As Sylvia’s adopted daughter, she carries on Sylvia’s legacy with STARR continuing to provide for the immediate needs of the trans, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary (TGNCNB) community. Mariah works for justice not only through her role at the helm of STARR, but also through her individual activism. She has personally lobbied and litigated New York City agencies for better treatment and support of TGNCNB New Yorkers in many aspects of their lives. She has advocated for several important issues including healthcare access, housing for incarcerated people, improving the quality of LGBTQ+ shelters in New York City, the preservation of trans New York history, and much more.

Get Involved

While this post offers a brief glimpse at some of the women past and present who have made LGBTQ+ history in New York, we encourage you to learn about and celebrate the many others who have charted our way. People like Lorena Borjas, Edie Windsor, Audre Lorde, Stormé DeLarverie, Gladys Bentley, and more. Through their art, words, activism, anger, imagination, and fierce love, they have made brighter futures possible for us all.


Want to connect with other queer and trans women through The Center? Here’s how:

  • Explore our Center Support Social Groups, which include a rotating series of identity-based spaces to meet and make connections, find support systems, and take advantage of our many resources.
  • Join Center Youth, and sign up for one of our support groups specifically geared toward LGBTQ+ young women.
  • Get a glimpse of our annual Women’s Event, NYC’s premier event highlighting the contributions of LGBTQ+ women in our community. And stay tuned for info about our next Women’s Event taking place November 3, 2023.