9 Disabled Activists from the Queer Rights Movement

9 Disabled Activists from the Queer Rights Movement

By Colton Ortiz

An image gallery celebrating disabled heroes of the queer rights movement.

As millions across the country and around the world have learned to embrace their queer friends and neighbors, it is easy to forget the sheer number of individuals who fought for queer rights throughout history. It is even easier to forget those in the queer movement who were simultaneously trailblazers for other communities and movements. This Disability Pride Week, I want to highlight some of my personal heroes from the queer rights movement who beautifully lived at the intersection of queerness and disability.


Audre Lorde

Picture of Audre Lorde
Image description: On the left of the picture, Audre Lorde stands strongly in a wooden classroom, holding her large rimmed glasses between both hands. She is wearing a ruffled white collared shirt over a leopard print undershirt. On her right hand, which is to your left, she is wearing multiple thin metal bracelets. On her left hand, which is to your right, she is wearing a thin metal watch and large ring set with a large stone on her ring finger. She is wearing dark pants and has a stern look upon her face. She wears small stud earrings and her hair is in a short afro. To Lorde’s right and in much of the photo is a moveable chalkboard, upon which Lorde has written in print “Women are powerful and dangerous”. To the left of the photo and in the background is a small metal drinking fountain, and behind the chalkboard is a stack of foldable chairs.

Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She spent much of her life using her talent to confront racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. After her graduation from Columbia University, she worked as a librarian in the New York public schools. Following her divorce from Edward Rollins in 1970, she met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton. Lorde contributed greatly to areas such as feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory, in essays such as her acclaimed piece “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” Her life experiences heavily influenced her work, such as her fight against breast cancer and mastectomy, which she wrote of in The Cancer Journals. Lorde was the New York State Poet laureate and has been honored and remembered by numerous awards and monuments, such as the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor.


Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan at Southwest Texas State University (Texas)
Image description: In this image Barbara Jordan sits at a wooden desk facing your right. She wears a stiff collared shirt and an accompanying dark blazer. Large rimmed glasses rest upon her face, partially obscured by her large curly hair, which she wears up. Only her right ear can be seen, which is to your left. On that ear she wears a large white earring. She rests her right hand at the table where she is seated. Slightly to the left of her hand is a nearly empty glass of water which rests on a large white doily. Directly in front of Jordan on the desk is a thin microphone which stands upon a thin metal base. The chord of the microphone can be seen running off the desk behind Jordan. She peers questioningly to the right toward the audience she is addressing. This photo was taken during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing during the Watergate Scandal in the 1970’s.

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was the first African American to serve in the Texas senate and the first African American woman from a southern state to serve in congress in 1973. She was a fierce advocate for voting rights, minimum wage laws and the civil rights movement. She gained national attention for her role in the Watergate hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. In 1976 the Democratic party asked her to deliver the keynote address at their national convention, being both the first woman and the first African American to do so. She was a powerhouse in immigration reform, and, after working as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, she served as the chairperson of the US Commission on Immigration Reform in 1994. Jordan used a wheelchair for much of her later years due to Multiple Sclerosis. She eventually contracted pneumonia and died on January 17, 1996. She was survived by her partner Nancy Earl and was buried in Austin, Texas.


Bobbie Lea Bennett

Picture of Bobbie Lea Bennett
Bobbie Lea Bennett is the only figure in this image. She can be seen from the knees up. She sits in her wheelchair wearing a large puffy trench coat with large fur collar. Her right hand, which is to your left is resting on the padded foam of her wheelchair. Her other hand is near her face, while that arm’s elbow rests on the padded armrest of her wheelchair. On both wrists she is wearing thin metal bracelets. Her hair is round and stops at her ears. She causally looks to her left, our right, with slightly open lips.

Bobbie Lea Bennett was the first woman to obtain gender affirmation surgery in 1978. She was originally was assured that the cost would be covered under Medicare’s Social Security disability benefits program but was denied coverage without explanation. Bennett fought to mobilize her community and force Medicare officials to consider gender affirmation surgeries as medical necessities. On April 5th of 1978, she secured her money, after driving to the office of Medicare director Thomag Tierney and refusing to leave.


Chella Man

Picture of Chella Man
Image description: Chella Man faces directly toward us in this image and is the only figure against a light blue background. He poses with his right knee, to your left, up, upon which he rests both his left and right arm. On his right arm, to your left, is a thin lined tattoo which stretches from beneath his clothes to his wrist. He is wearing red pants and thin matching suspenders. He is also wearing a lavender colored sweater which stops at his biceps. In the direct center of the image and slightly above his chest is a silver star of David which he wears on a think silver chain. He has a stern look on his face and short brown hair. He wears cochlear implants on both ears.

Chella Man (age 21) is an American YouTuber, actor, model, artist and LGBTQ+ activist of Chinese and Jewish descent. He began his YouTube channel in March of 2017, where he shares his experiences with his identity, love life, gender dysphoria, and deafness. In 2018 he hosted his TedX Talk “Becoming Him”, in which he discusses his journey transitioning while being disabled. Man signed to IMG in September 2018 and has modeled for brands like Calvin Klein and American Eagle. His introduction to the international stage came with his acting debut as Jericho, a deaf and nonspeaking hero for DC Universe’s series Titans.

“There is an extreme lack of representation for young, Deafqueer, Jewish, Asian, transgender artists…So, I decided to be my own representation.”


Jazzie Collins

Picture of Jazzie Collins
Jazzie Collins stands on the right half of this image and can be seen from the collarbones up. She is wearing a dark shirt and an accompanying dark jacket with a fur hood. She has on rose colored rectangular glasses, which rest in front of her eyes and pink eye shadow. She is wearing dark red lipstick, and her light brown, curly hair rests at shoulder length. On top of her head she is wearing a dark colored knit cap. On her left shoulder, which is to your right, she is wearing a brown purse, upon which she has a large button. In the left and background, a woman in a bright red dress is reaching into her purse. Jazzie appears to be in a covered restaurant porch, likely in San Francisco where she worked.

Jazzie Collins was a fierce transgender activist and community organizer in San Francisco, who worked with numerous organizations such as Senior and Disability Action, San Francisco’s LBGT Aging Policy Taskforce, and the San Francisco Trans March. Jazzie ran the food pantry “6th Street Agenda” and was one of the original members of Queers for Economic Equality Now (QUEEN). Many of her fellow community organizers opened Jazzie’s Place in her honor after her death in 2013.


Jessica Kellgren-Fozard

Picture of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
Image description: Jessica is in the center of the image, on a curvy asphalt path through a park. There are fallen leaves around her, showing that it is sometime in autumn. She faces to her left, your right. She sits in a blue wheel chair and is holding the wheels with both hands. She is wearing light colored sneakers and a floral dress which falls below her knees. She is wearing dark leather gloves and a lighter trench coat, which she has tied around her waist. A small brown bag hangs from the back of her wheelchair, and a smaller tan purse sits in her lap. She is mid smile, which is highlighted by her red lipstick and wavy red hair, which falls slightly below her shoulders.

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is a YouTuber, model, and activist from Brighton, UK. She Is deaf, visually impaired, has a rare autoimmune disorder MCTD, and a nerve disorder HNPP. She currently lives in Brighton with her wife Claudia and dogs. She covers numerous topics on her channel, including body positivity, disability, Pride, and mental health. She was recently featured on the popular YouTube channel the School of Life in their discussion of the secret of happiness.


Marsha P. Johnson

Picture of Marsha P. Johnson
Image description: Marsha P. Johnson smiles directly toward the camera in this photo. She is seated in an old wooden chair, which rests against a wall on the right of the image. She is facing toward the left of the image, but her head is turned toward the foreground. She has her left hand raised to shoulder level and holds a small glass with water. Her shoulders are exposed as she wears a satin pink dress. Around her neck she has multiple necklaces – tight gold ribbon, long gold frill, and long beaded chains. She smiles ecstatically, with deep red lipstick and blush. Her hair is done up and is quite curly. Upon her head rests a large floral crown, which obscures much of her forehead and crown. In the background is a small round table, upon which rests an identical glass and half empty bottle of water. Against the wall are numerous boxes of tea, teapots, and cups.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was a gay liberation activist and drag queen. She was a prominent figure at the Stonewall uprising of 1969 and, along with close friend and activist Sylvia Rivera, co-founded the advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). She was also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front in New York. She was a popular figure in the New York City art scene, performing drag and modeling for artists such as Andy Warhol. Later in her life, she was an AIDS activist with ACT UP. Johnson is one of the most beloved figures in the gay liberation movement, and she has been featured in two documentaries, “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” and “Pay It No Mind ­– The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson.”


Morty Manford

Picture of Morty Manford at a march with his mother Jeanne
Image description: From left to right, Morty Manford and his mother Jeanne stand at the front of a crowd of people during a New York City gay liberation march. Morty, to the right of his mother, your left, wears a white collared shirt and a dark suit jacket. On his left lapel he has a small button and lambda button, which was the symbol for gay liberation in the 1970’s. He looks to your right toward the crowd and past his mother. He has large dark curly hair and is mid stride. His mother, to Morty’s left, your right, is mostly obscured by a dark buttoned jacket which she holds over her right arm. She also carries a large rectangular sign, which says “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for our Children” written in multiple fonts. At the bottom of the sign is a large lambda symbol, similar to that which Morty wears on his lapel. Jeanne smiles cautiously as she points the sign toward the crowd. She wears rounded dark glasses and has short blonde hair.

Morty Manford was one of many activists present at the Stonewall uprising and took part in the decades long battle for gay liberation and equality in New York City. He was heavily involved in the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). In addition, he helped found Gay People at Columbia University, one of the nation’s first gay campus groups. Morty is well known for being beaten by Michael Maye, the then president of the city’s Uniformed Firefighters Association. Morty served as an assistant New York State attorney general and, alongside his mother Jeanne Manford, co-founded PFLAG, the national support group organization, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, for which she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal. Morty died at the young age of 41 from complications with AIDS. He is remembered through his activism and PFLAG’s Morty Manford Award.


Nyle DiMarco

Picture of Nyle DiMarco
Image description: Nyle DiMarco is the only character in this image, and he stand shirtless against a black cloth background. He can be seen from the elbows up, facing toward us. He is very muscular and is lightly hairy throughout his chest and abdomen. He has his mouth and eyes both wide open, with his tongue sticking far out of his mouth. He has a short beard dark beard and mustache, and his dark hair is slicked back. His ears are large and slightly pointed outward. In multicolored paint, DiMarco has the American Sign Language sign – a fist with the pointer finger, pinky finger, and thumb out – for love painted around ten times. The many hands connect through painted vines up to his face, the left half, your right, of which is covered in face paint.

Nyle DiMarco is an American actor, model, LGBTQ+, and deaf/hard-of-hearing activist. He is both the winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. He attended Gallaudet University and graduated in 2013 with a degree in mathematics. He began his career in an independent American Sign Language Films production, In the Can and also played a recurring role in Freeform’s Switched at Birth. In 2017 he was honored as Deaf Life Magazine’s “Person of the Year”. In 2016 he founded The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, which provides resources to deaf children and families. DiMarcho is currently signed with Wilhelmina Models and CESD Talent Agency.