Seven LGBT comms icons to celebrate LGBT history month

To honour UK LGBT history month (February), I asked colleagues and peers to suggest a list of influential LGBTQ communicators through history, or as I like to call it: Comms Tops.

LGBT comms icons (from top left): Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Annie Leibovitz, Leo Lerman, Kevin Brockman, Lord John Browne, Marsha P Johnson
LGBT comms icons (from top left): Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Annie Leibovitz, Leo Lerman, Kevin Brockman, Lord John Browne, Marsha P Johnson

LGBT history month annually marks the abolishment of Section 28* in 2003 (or 2000 if you're Scottish, which I am – yay the Scots).

To pre-warn, I am no history buff and whilst I didn’t do too shabbily on the Romans in Year 9, you are not reading the workings of a Pointless champion here.

It’s a non-exhaustive personal view and hopefully, others reading this will have a totally different opinion.
Isn’t opinion just gorge? I have 500(ish) words so you know, that sucks, as I could fill a nightclub with these queers.

Now, to the list:

In print – Leo Lerman & Annie Leibovitz

An openly gay writer and editor at Conde Nast for over 50 years, Lerman edited Mademoiselle for 26, Vogue for 11 and was then editor-in-chief of the re-launched Vanity Fair in the 80s, before being ousted stage-left by Brit, Tina Brown. PR and magazines always felt to me like safe havens for non-conformists but in 1948, when Leo started, it was still a raucously brave move to be out, loud, proud and in charge.

No cover-splashes are as ardently anticipated as the work of Leibovitz. Her 'Call me Caitlyn' Vanity Fair cover (above) is iconic and part of a fundamental year of change in perception of trans people. And the covers just keep racking up: Lennon and Yoko on Rolling Stone, Kim and Kanye on Vogue (a sign the magazine was further embracing the world of celebrity, unlike ever before) and a naked Demi Moore embracing her baby bump. If you need more proof, you better Google it babes.

On telly – Anderson Cooper & Robin Roberts

Two massive anchors (HA!), on arguably America’s most high-profile morning and evening news shows. When you consider that against a UK backdrop, it’s a pretty monumental message to LGBTQ people about success (little shout-out to Jane Hill, our only openly gay news anchor on BBC News 24). According to the New York Times, Cooper is "the most prominent openly gay journalist on American television". And when President Obama wanted to publicly announce his switched position on same-sex marriage, he chose to do it with Ms Roberts (below).

Big in-house – Kevin Brockman and Lord Brown

Brockman is an EVP at Disney and ABC, reaching over 600m people in 127 countries every month, which is probably one of the biggest roles a gay man occupies in the world today. It’s a glass-ceiling-smashing role and an inspiration.

Lord Brown isn’t a communicator but the latter part of his career as CEO of BP, was lived-out entirely in media, and I remember it vividly. In 2008, John Brown’s ex sold a story to a Sunday newspaper outing him. Brown resigned within hours of the story hitting the stands. He tried for an injunction but was so used to playing it straight at work that his first thought was to lie about how they met; in a park, not – as is true – on an escort site.

Straight acting is still a very modern problem (just look at the PRCA diversity report, I mean FFS). Brown would practice how to respond if ever asked a sexuality question direct. He also used to take his mum to events to avoid having to take a female date. All because he thought nobody would accept him telling and living as his true self.

Marsha P Johnston (my type of micro influencer)

When we first started our business, I gave a talk and referred to Marsha as one of the most incredible micro-influencers of her day and in my life. A founder member of the Gay Liberation Front, Johnson was gay, black, trans and a drag queen, which in the 60s meant every single part of you was at risk of abuse. Often credited with being the spark that started the revolution at Stonewall, Marsha is a symbol of the equality struggle. A shocking 22 trans women were murdered in 2017. Martha’s death is also subject to continued speculation as to whether it was suicide, or murder by the mob, who controlled stonewall (and other gay bars).

Steve Strickland is co-founder of Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

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