Are you loud and proud about your sexual freedom (or at least quietly grateful that you’ve got easy access to birth control and sex toys)? Believe it or not, just a few decades ago you could potentially face social persecution and even serious threats for showing off your LGBTQ+ pride colors or walking up to your local Planned Parenthood office.
We’ve still got a long way to go, as it’s not always a walk in the park to be openly gay, happily polyamorous, or enthusiastic about showing off your gorgeous booty in a pair of mini shorts. But compared to the trials of having pre-marital sex in the 1950s, those of us to come of age in the 1990s and 2000s have it pretty damn good.
We owe our newfound sexual freedom to the countless liberators who stood high on their righteous soapboxes and put life and limb on the line in order to fight for a more sexually equal world. If you really want to fly your sexy freak flag with pride, it’s important to know your history so you can shut down the haters with words of wisdom.
Ready to get schooled on your right to celebrate sex by us at b-Vibe? In this article, we will cover the following:
Let’s take a look at some of the brave faces that became synonymous with sexual human rights.
If you’ve never heard of Margaret Sanger, it’s time for a trip in the way-back machine. This feminist activist started her campaigns for womens’ birth control rights in 1912 with a newspaper column titled “What Every Girl Should Know,” which preached the gospel of sex education. She later championed The Woman Rebel magazine in 1914, where Sanger further promoted her beliefs on giving women the right to choose to become pregnant, calling it a sign of true freedom.
Sanger, a practicing nurse, often came to the aid of young, impoverished women who suffered at the hands of botched, back-alley abortions. Sanger saw there was a desperate need to prevent unwanted pregnancy during a time when religion and morals reigned over reproductive health.
Sanger was prosecuted for distributing “obscene material” due to the country’s obscenity laws and fled to England, but she returned with a vengeance in 1915. Soon after her return, Sanger and her sister opened the first family planning clinic in 1916 in Brooklyn, NY, and in 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, a precursor to Planned Parenthood.
You might have heard that the first birth control pill hit the market in 1960, but did you know that Sanger helped the pill obtain research and funding? Yep – if you’ve ever taken an oral contraceptive, you can thank Margaret Sanger for making it possible.
If you thought it was revolutionary to be an elected gay official in the 2000s, try stepping up to the political plate in the 1970s! Harvey Milk was one of the first openly-gay men to be appointed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
After living a fairly quiet, somewhat closeted life in New York, Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972 and opened a camera shop right in the heart of the city’s gay neighborhood. Right before relocating to California, Milk befriended a group of gay radicals in Greenwich Village, and upon opening up shop in San Fran, he was inspired to start using his community popularity to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Even before he ran for office, locals dubbed Milk “The Mayor of Castro Street,” where he was affectionately known as a colorful, friendly character.
Over the course of 2 elections, Milk campaigned for a seat on the Board of Supervisors, but lost twice. However, he was undeterred, and by then had become a force in the fight for human rights. During his time in politics, he befriended fellow liberal figures, like future US senator Dianne Feinstein, who joined him in the promotion of acceptance and tolerance.
Harvey Milk wasn’t just a proponent of rights for gays. His political platforms included improved child care and housing, and a civilian review board for police. Milk’s fame came from his dedication to the freedom of marginalized people, which roused anger from more typical conservative types of the 70s. Sadly, Milk was assassinated for his righteous efforts by former Supervisor Dan White, a board member who clashed with Milk’s views and hated the idea of homosexual freedom.
Although Milk’s life was brought to an abrupt end, his name lives on as one of the original freedom fighters who dared to step into the political realm to create equality for LGBTQ+ people.
In the 60s and 70s, career advancement opportunities for women were already scarce. If you were also black and part of the LGBTQ+ community, your voice was even more harshly silenced. But in 1969, after being told her gender precluded her from climbing the corporate ladder at airline Pan-Am, Barbara Smith took matters into her own hands.
Smith, a black lesbian, felt the black rights’ movements of the time lacked representation for women, especially those in the gay community. Along with her sister, Beverly Smith, and former Chicago Black Panther Demita Frazier, she helped form the Combahee River Collective in 1974.
Named after Harriet Tubman’s 1853 raid that freed 750 slaves in South Carolina, this activist group filled the gaps left by the white feminist movement and the black mens’ rights movement. Smith focused on issues unique to black women, such as low-wage labor, sexual assault, and sterilization.
Throughout the 1970s, this radical group of women worked to dismantle the forces of American capitalism that held down other marginalized peoples, often joining forces with other political activists to strengthen their voices together. The CRC coined terms like “identity politics” and ignited discussions on the intersection of race, gender, and class.
In 2017, the CRC commemorated their 40th anniversary with a celebration of the growth of black feminism, though with the acknowledgment that we’ve got a long way to go before black women are truly free.
Keep on Fighting the Good Fight
The war on our human rights is far from where it began, but sexual freedom fighters aren’t giving up anytime soon. Modern sex educators are picking up where folks like Sanger, Milk, and Smith left off with fierce messages that push the envelope of societal views and politics.
If you’re looking for the next generation of sexually-liberated heroes, look no further than the empowered voices that are working for a better future for all humans.
From here, the next steps are up to you, sexual explorer! What makes you feel the most sexually free? Is it learning how to pleasure yourself with a new sex toy? Marching in a LGBTQ+ Pride celebration? Kissing your partner (or partners!) right out in the open without fear? Whatever it is, take inspiration from the incredible icons who came before you and risked everything to create the progressive world we live in today. Their blessings are undoubtedly shining down every time you piss off a close-minded hater. Rock on, and keep fighting the good fight!
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