Our Transgender Heroes: Remembering Those Who Have Paved The Way

Today is national Transgender Day of Remembrance, which allows an opportunity for communities to come together and mark the passing of transgender  individuals — or those perceived to be transgender — who have been murdered because of hate.

To honor the lives of transgender and gender nonconforming people, we’ve compiled a list of a few well-known transgender heroes, both alive and dead, who have helped pave the way for awareness of trans issues and bring about change.

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen was an American trans woman and the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery in 1951. After her surgery she became an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Chaz Bono

Chaz Bono is an LGBT activist and the child of entertainers Sonny and Cher. Between 2008 and 2010, Bono underwent sex reassignment surgery. A documentary on his experience, Becoming Chaz, was screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and broadcast on OWN.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an actress and transgender activist. She became widely known after appearing in 13 episodes of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, playing a transgender woman in prison for credit card fraud.

Renée Richards

Renée Richards is a former professional tennis player. In 1975, she underwent sex reassignment surgery. She was denied entry into the 1976 U.S. Open by the United States Tennis Association, citing an unprecedented women-born-women policy. In a landmark case, Richards challenged the ban, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977.

Brandon Teena

Brandon Teena was a trans man who was raped and murdered at 21 years old in Humboldt, Nebraska in 1993. His story was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning is a United States Army soldier who was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses in July 2013, after releasing classified documents to the public. The day after her sentencing, Manning came out as a trans woman, saying she would now like to be referred to as Chelsea and that she desired to begin hormone replacement therapy.

Lana Wachowski

Lana Wachowski is, in partnership with her brother Andy, a screenwriter, director and producer most popular for their film The Matrix. Lana began transitioning from male to female in the early 2000s, but didn’t make her first public appearance as a female until July 2012. She is the first major Hollywood director to come out as transgender.

Robert Eads

Robert Eads was a trans man whose life and death was the subject of the award-winning documentary Southern Comfort. Eads transitioned later in life and as such it was deemed unadvisable to seek surgical sex assignment to male genitalia. In 1996, he was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which could have been avoided had doctors allowed him to have a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. He died in 1999.

Jenna Talackova

Jenna Talackova gained widespread media attention in 2012 when she successfully waged a legal battle to be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada after being initially disqualified for being a trans woman. She won the case and was allowed to compete, eventually making it into the Top 12 of the competition.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #brandonteena #chazbono #chelseamanning stories and more


  • Elloreigh

    No mention of Renee Richards or Calpernia Addams?

  • mgmchicago

    A good list – some I knew about, some are new to me. I would also add a few of my personal trans heroes: Alexandra Billings and Chilli Pepper (renowned Chicago performers) and Buck Angel (who I find sexy as hell.)

  • tdx3fan

    I would hardly call Chelsea a hero, and I am unconvinced that she is even transgendered. I think she is deeply disturbed, and has more going on in her head than most people that identify as transgendered. I would not be surprised if the whole transgendered thing is just another way for her to play the victim card and keep herself in the spotlight.

  • danaco50

    @tdx3fan: You need to read up on Christine J. It was big news when she had her surgery.

  • Faggot

    @tdx3fan: Transgender, not transgendered.

    The Huffington Post did an article about this (March 11, 2010 by Joanne Herman). Find it and take a look at it. Excerpt: “I’ve increasingly been seeing and hearing the word ‘transgendered,’ and I have cringed every time. What’s wrong with the seemingly subtle difference between saying ‘transgendered’ and ‘transgender?’ Actually, a lot.”

  • RevJames

    @tdx3fan: OK! Thanks for that insight into her thoughts and motivations judgey McJudger.

  • Thedrdonna

    @tdx3fan: This is actually mirroring the way a lot of people view trans folk in general. The idea is that somehow trans folk are not really serious, and are just doing it to be special or to get attention. That sort of thought process is why we still don’t have uniform, or even widespread, coverage for trans medical procedures, even though they have been recognized as medically necessary by the medical community. There’s too many people who think it’s “elective”, because they think being trans is not legitimate.

  • gkoskovich

    So many important names to add to this list. To cite just some of the historical pioneers: Lili Elbe (1882–1931); Alan L. Hart (1890–1962); Michael Dillon (1915–1962); Coccinelle (1931–2006). And among those still with us, let me mention my friend Marie-Pierre Pruvot (born 1935). I’m hoping the recent documentary about her will make into the U.S. LGBT film festival circuit this year; here’s the trailer (in French):

  • AuntieChrist

    @tdx3fan: Who is Chelsea? You must be rather young, naive, or just plain stupid…. As a gay man there are many things that I do not understand about Transgendered people…. I admit to preconceived notions and even a certain level of prejudice…. These things I keep to myself and I embrace these people with as much love and compassion as I can give…. They belong to our community and deserve our respect…. I did not know that the violence directed at them was so severe….I am in shock and have spent the better part of this day in tears…. Shame on anyone who would dare to say one word against them.

  • AuntieChrist

    Pardon me if I’m not PC. Age is no excuse but as an elder I get a pass card.

  • dougmc92

    what about model, Bond Girl and Playboy centerfold- Tula????

  • DShucking

    No Tula or Billy Tipton?

  • DShucking

    @AuntieChrist: He did not say he didn’t know who Chelsea is. He questioned her hero status and motivations behind her alleged transgender identify.

  • Dixie Rect


    In tears? C’mon now, lighten up, this is Queerty.

  • Teleny

    Aleshia Brevard, Billy Tipton, radclyffe Hall, Gladys Bentley, lynn Conway, Stella Boulton & Fanny Park, Alfred Taylor, Harry Benjamin, and so many others…

  • Teleny

    @AuntieChrist: that was really honest and nice. I came out in Pittsburgh where lbgt people tend to share social space. I think that’s a good thing because knowing others in the community really helps to break down prejudices or stereotypes.

  • gurrrlplease

    I like how there is only one person of color on this list with no mention of Marsha P Johnson or Sylvia Rivera whom have been credited by numerous people as the first people to start the stonewall riots. Good job Queerty.

  • AuntieChrist

    @Dixie Rect: Every two weeks, on average, someone is murdered in the United States in an act of anti-transgender violence….. Pardon me for not being a heartless tacky queen who will take any opportunity to tear someone down or pretend not to care…[email protected]DShucking: I didn’t see Mannings photo cause my scrolling feature is all herky jerky…. but I stand by my assessment of Judgey McJudgepants up there.

  • DShucking

    What does you not seeing Chealses’s photo have to do with this comment ‘@tdx3fan: Who is Chelsea?’? It doesn’t make any sense.

  • DShucking

    @AuntieChrist: Please provide a link to this statistic. I didn’t know it was that bad.

  • DShucking

    @gurrrlplease: Where they transgenders or drag queens?

  • LynneaofHeaven

    I am surprised to not see Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnsson on that list after their involvement in the Stonewall Uprising, their work as the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and continued work for transgender civil rights in New York. Because of these, the position of transgender people in the LGBT spectrum was secured, despite the alliance being often a tenuous one.

    Others I might have included are Jamison Green whose activism opened discussions in many states and Theresa Sparks whose work not only secured legal rights for transgender people in California but who became the first transgender police commissioner.

  • John Malin

    I remember the fuss made over Christine when she returned to the USA from her sexual reassignment surgery in Sweden. People were stunned, in both a positive and negative way, but the press was absolutely relentless. Nothing really ever changes.

  • Peter McKinney

    You really had no business putting Chelsea Manning on this list.

Comments are closed.