While Pride Month can bring to mind celabratory parades and all things rainbow, the reason why it takes place each June is rooted in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 — an event that took place in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided a gay club located in Greenwich Village known as the Stonewall Inn.
The uprising was led predominantly by trans gay liberation activists of color Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and is noted as being the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Each June, it’s the courage of Johnson, Rivera, and countless other folks who took a stand for their community in the face of injustice that is celebrated.
We believe that the origin story of Pride is one worth telling. We also recognize the relationship between medical institutions and LGBTQ+ folks is a complicated narrative not without instances of inequity, discrimination, and unjust treatment. The implications of those disparities are still significant today — and it’s part of the reason we believe that better care for better health, must also mean better care for all.
That’s why for this year’s Pride Month, we’d like to celebrate a few LGBTQ+ trailblazers who impacted the history of healthcare and left things a little bit brighter for all. To learn more about these individuals throughout history, read below:
After becoming the first woman to earn a doctorate in public health from the New York University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker went on to work to greatly improve the health and well-being of immigrant communities in New York City.
She was the first director of New York’s Bureau of Child Hygiene 1908 and over the next decade of her being there, infant mortality rates in the city rapidly decreased. Dr. Baker was also instrumental in identifying "Typhoid Mary" — a cook who had worked in several New York households — who’d caused a typhoid epidemic in the city.
Though it can’t be confirmed whether she chose to do so for gender presentation or style preference, Baker preferred to dress in tailored suits and neckties which wasn’t common for the time. She also lived with her life partner, writer Ida Wylie, from 1920 until her death in 1945.
Dr. Alan L. Hart was an Oregon physician, researcher, and writer who was also the first documented man in the United State to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Dr. Hart held medical degrees from Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University and dedicated his life to medicine — specifically by helping identify tuberculosis diagnosis early in patients by use of x-ray.
He was also a fiction writer, and wrote five books that helped extend the world of medicine to the public. Despite his many achievements, Dr. Hart’s career was riddled with discrimination. After being outed by an old schoolmate for being trans, he often had to move in search of both work and privacy from the media.
By the late 1930s, Dr. Hart became the Idaho State tuberculosis officer and thousands of lives were saved thanks to his contributions.
After becoming one of the first women in the United States to earn a medical degree, Dr. Emily Blackwell went on to establish the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. Additionally, during the American Civil War she helped organize the Women's Central Association of Relief, which selected and trained nurses for service in the war.
After the war, Dr. Emily Blackwell and her sister established the Women's Medical College in New York City, and it was there that she met her partner, Dr. Elizabeth Cushier. The couple would go on to raise an adopted daughter together.
When Dr. Blackwell closed the college in 1899, 364 women had earned their medical degrees there and her hospital would eventually merge with another institution in 1981 to become known as the New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Dr. Bruce Raymond Voeller graduated from Reed College in 1956 and was awarded a five-year fellowship to the Rockefeller Institute. He then earned his Ph.D. in biology in 1961 and by 1966, he became an associate professor at the Rockefeller Institute specializing in plant physiology. By the age of 29, Dr. Voeller came out publicly as a gay man and would go on to devote his career to speicializing in human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases and would become one of the most important gay rights advocates thanks to his pioneering of AIDS research.
In 1973 he co-founded the National Gay Task Force and in 1977, he was part of the the now-renamed National LGBTQ Task Force that held the first-ever meeting at the White House where openly gay and lesbian leaders were welcomed for discussion of gay and lesbian rights. During the first few years of the AIDS pandemic, it was Dr. Voeller who coined the term acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
In 2019, Dr. Voeller was inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor as one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” within the Stonewall National Monuments.
Dr. John Ercel Fryer was a psychiatrist and gay rights activist best kniwn for the anonymous speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference. Fryer's speech began by stating he was both a gay man and a psychiatrist, and went on to describe the lives of the many gay psychiatrists in the APA who had to hide their sexuality from their colleagues.
Dr. Fryer’s speech has been cited as one of the key factors in the decision remove homosexuality as a mental illness from the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.12 The APA now has a "John E. Fryer, M.D., Award" named in Dr. Fryer’s honor thanks to his contributions to the course of LGBTQ+ history.
1. Stonewall Riots. History. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
2. Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and the history of Pride Month. Smithsonian. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
3. Dr. S. Josephine Baker. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
4. From the Archives: Dr. Alan Hart. Lewis and Clark. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
5. Alan Hart. Oregon Encyclopedia. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
6. Emily Blackwell. Wikipedia. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
7. The Queer Victorian Doctors Who Paved the Way for Women in Medicine. History. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
8. Bruce Voeller. Wikipedia. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
9. Dr. Bruce Voeller: Gay Rights and Public Health Pioneer. Village Preservation. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
10. John E. Fryer. Wikipedia. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
11. 'I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist': How Dr. Anonymous changed history. NBC News. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.
12. Today in 1973, the APA Removed Homosexuality From List of Mental Illnesses. Human Rights Campaign. URL. Accessed June 6, 2022.