7 Transgender Women Who Made History

From Stonewall to the Grand Prix, see how they made their mark on the world

By Google Arts & Culture

One of the original eight-color flags flying at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco during Gay Freedom Day 1978 by Crawford Wayne BartonGLBT Historical Society

Today, serious strides are being made to recognize and implement rights for transgender people around the world. However, there is still a long way to go. As prominent figures are often left out of the history books, let's shine a spotlight on seven transgender women pioneers.

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costumes Parisiens, 1914, No. 162 : Robe de gabardin (...) (1914) by Wegener, GerdaRijksmuseum

Lili Elbe

Danish artist Lili Elbe worked as an illustrator, specializing in landscape paintings. She often posed for her wife Gerda Wegener, becoming the inspiration behind the works 'Les Femmes Fatales'.

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen became the first to publicly transition in the US. Christine embraced the publicity and began performing as a singer, with her theme tune titled 'I Enjoy Being a Girl'.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta Cowell

Born in England in 1918, Cowell led an extraordinary life with a career as a Grand Prix racing driver, followed by a period as a front-line Spitfire pilot during World War II.


French actress and singer Coccinelle, or Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy, started her career performing in nightclubs. As her notoriety grew, so did her movie career, starring in six films from 1958 to 1966.

Marsha P. Johnson at the Pride March, 1975 (1975) by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is often credited with kickstarting the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, which helped launch the LGBTQ+ rights movement. She also helped to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) activism group, campaigning for greater inclusion for trans people.

Sylvia Rivera and Bebe Scarpi/Scarpinato at Gay Liberation Front's Demonstration at Bellevue Hospital, 1970 (1970) by Richard C. WandelThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Sylvia Rivera

A friend of Marsha Johnson and fellow founder of STAR, Rivera had lived on the streets of New York from an early age, before being adopted by local drag queens. She dedicated her life to trans activism, with her work living on through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Renée Richards

Renée Richards was a professional tennis player, competing throughout the 1970s and reaching the women's doubles final at Wimbledon. Previously, Renée had trained to be an ophthalmologist, going on to specialize in eye-muscle surgery.

Photographs of the first transgender flag and the second Pride flag flown at the Sacramento Capitol (2019) by California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, Alina Hernandez, Brian Guido, and Jesse MelgarCalifornia State Archives

Discover more stories about trailblazing women in culture.

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