LGBTQIA+ Historical Leaders Who Advocated for Housing Rights

Homes RI
5 min readOct 21, 2022

October is LGBTQ+ History Month — a month-long annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and non-binary history, including the history of LGBTQIA+ rights and related civil rights movements.

It is no secret that there is a long history of housing discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. LGBTQIA+ youth face more than twice the homelessness risk of heterosexual, cisgender youth. (Urban Institute, 2018.) Additionally, one study found that 48% of older same sex couples applying for senior housing were subjected to discrimination. (The Equal Rights Center, 2014).

Though the Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968, it only protected Americans from housing discrimination in these seven classes: race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, disability, and biological sex. However, on June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Bostock v. Clayton Cty., in 2020, which held that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Following that decision on January 20, 2021, President Biden issued “Executive Order 13988 on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” Following the order, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a memorandum on February 11, 2021, “Implementation of Executive Order 13988 on the Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act,” which addresses discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity under the Fair Housing Act. Despite these policies, many LGBTQIA+ individuals still experience discrimination.

As of 2021, thirty states including DC have explicit laws against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Now that you have some background info, let’s explore some of the leaders who helped make nondiscrimination against LGBTQIA+ in housing a reality.

Sylvia Rivera

(AP Photo/Justin Sutcliffe, File)

Sylvia Rivera (July 2, 1951 — February 19, 2002) was an American gay liberation and transgender rights activist and a noted community worker in New York. Rivera’s activism began in 1970 after she participated in actions with the Gay Liberation Front’s Drag Queen Caucus and later joined the Gay Activists Alliance at 18 years old, where she fought for not only the rights of gay people but also for the inclusion of drag queens, such as herself, in the movement.

With close friend Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Jonson (August 24, 1945 — July 6, 1992) was a transgender drag performer, sex worker, and activist. Johnson was pivotal in the 1969 Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City, which led to the modern LGBTQIA+ movement. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with Rivera.

STAR was a gay, gender non-conforming and trans street activist radical political organization that also provided housing and support to homeless LGBT youth and sex workers in Lower Manhattan. STAR was funded mostly through sex work and Rivera and Johnson were the “mothers” of the household. STAR is considered by many to be a groundbreaking organization in the queer liberation movement.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Bernard Milk (May 22, 1930 — November 27, 1978) was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and the US, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and in 1977 was elected as city supervisor, a role he served for almost 11 months. In 1977, he also made promises to reform the tax code to boost industry, create low-income housing, and establish day care centers for working mothers.

In 1978, Milk introduced legislation to protect the gay community, banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill passed by a vote of 11–1 and was signed into law by the mayor. On November 27, 1978, Milk and the mayor were assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled former city supervisor who cast the only vote against Milk’s bill.

Activists and trailblazers like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Harvey Milk, whose lives were dedicated to advancing LGBTQIA+ liberation, are incredible examples of historic advocates for the end of housing discrimination against their community. By following in their footsteps, advocates like us can continue to promote access to safe, decent, affordable homes for all Rhode Islanders, no matter how they identify.

Help us celebrate this LGBTQ+ History Month by supporting fellow advocates who are on the ground doing the work to promote LGBTQIA+ liberation and equity. Consider following Haus of Codec, a Homes RI partner and a local non-profit in Providence whose vision is “to create a safer and more accessible means to housing, care, and essential services for displaced transition aged youth.”

“Haus of Codec is providing a safe shelter space for youth ages 18–24 to call home and help them find their own, more permanent housing solutions and workforce development opportunities. The shelter space hosts a food and clothing pantry, a self-service kitchen, a shared bathroom, access to essential services through partner providers, and a sense of community where there wasn’t one before.”



Homes RI

Homes RI is a coalition of organizations working together to increase the supply of safe, healthy and affordable homes throughout Rhode Island |