Stu Rasmussen, the first transgender mayor in the United States, had been elected in the small town of Silverton, Oregon, twice before transitioning, and then again after. A movie theater owner, former cable installer, and computer expert, Rasmussen ran on a fiscally conservative, locally-focused platform. When protestors appeared from out of state the town’s residents arranged a counter-protest in which they crossdressed out of solidarity. To raise money for the city Rasmussen has sold selections from his prodigious shoe collection. A musical based on his life (and election) was produced in Seattle and included in the New York Festival of New Musicals.
Rasmussen’s personal website is available here and his Facebook page is here.
Openly gay Bollywood director and producer Onir is a small minority in a suppressive industry. His feature length film debut, My Brother…Nikhil, was based on the life of Dominic d’Souza, who was quarantined in a tuberculosis ward after being diagnosed with AIDS; due to careful avoidance of same-sex physical affection (among other deviations from d’Souza’s life), it received a warm welcome with India’s mainstream audiences. Onir has since directed several more films, including I Am, an award-winning collection of four short films, each of which explores a controversial theme through a single human subject. He has started a production company aimed at elevating new acting talent.
As of the time of this posting, the youngest trans person to appear on United States national television was Jazz Jennings, in 2007, when she was six years old. The interview on 20/20 was reprised in 2013, offering an updated insight into Jennings’ life. Through a lawsuit stretching over several years she won the right to play on a girl’s soccer team. Her candor (she has a number of educational videos and interviews now posted on YouTube) led her naturally into an activist role, and she has been honored by several organizations, including a spot in Time‘s Top 25 Most Influential Teens list and a GLAAD media award, for her outspokenness. She runs a small business selling rubber mermaid tails and co-wrote a children’s book loosely based on her life.
Jennings’ official Facebook page is available here.
Although she has been acting since the age of eleven months (though not a recognizable one until the film E.T. when she was six), Drew Barrymore has expanded her professional talents to cover other filmmaking roles, such as screenwriting, producing (credits include cult film Donnie Darko), and directing. She co-founded her own production company, Flower Films, in 1995, which has specialized in romantic comedies (‘Flower’ is also the name for a line of cosmetics she helped create). Barrymore can also take credit as a writer: in her autobiography she details her experiences with substance abuse and publicity, and she has released a photobook of heart-shaped objects. She has been out as bisexual since a 2003 interview.
Her Facebook page can be found here and her Instagram account is here.
Popularized in the late 1980s as “Patient Zero,” the man responsible for the introduction and spread of HIV in North America, Gaëtan Dugas was a Canadian flight attendant with an extensive sexual history who died of AIDS. His notoriety, ignited by journalist Randy Shilts‘ book And The Band Played On, was part of a calculated publicity ploy meant to draw attention to the work so its broader message indicting the Reagan administration and calling for increased attention to the pandemic would reach critics. Sure enough, a promiscuous homosexual scapegoat was enough to win Band an article in Time magazine and a subsequent spot on the bestseller list. The term “Patient Zero” even became slang for “index case,” the first recorded example of a medical condition, despite the fact that Dugas had been referred to as “Patient O” in the original study (“O” stood for “Out of California”). The truth of Dugas’ life has largely vanished from the public consciousness, though a recording does exist of him speaking at an HIV/AIDS forum prior to his death.
In addition to illustrating the complexity of compiling medical knowledge with limited resources, Dugas’ story also raises the question of whether the end result of knowingly cultivating a myth can justify its positive consequences. History is written with an agenda in mind; it behooves its creators to pay careful thought to whether their cause is a responsible one, and who is worth sacrificing to achieve it.
Credited on a bronze plaque as “the first woman to vote,” Charley Parkhurst was assigned female at birth but went on to become a stagecoach driver in California, a high-status position known as a “whip” or “Jehu”. Known as “One-eyed Charley” for the eyepatch he earned from a horse kick, he had a reputation for being an agreeable type who drank, smoke, and drove a respectable “six-horse”. Legend even tells of him taking down a notorious highway baron. Parkhurst has since been featured as the subject of several novels based on rumors about his life.
In addition to the possibility that Parkhurst never voted at all, the consistency and longevity of his assumed identity (like many other historical trans figures he made the newspaper after his body was inspected post-mortem) suggests that he identified as a man rather than a woman, and so could not have been the first woman to vote anyway.
Businesswoman, attorney, and author Martine Rothblatt is sometimes introduced in headlines as “the highest-paid female CEO in America“. While a breakdown of her earnings is publicly available for the interested, her technology startup accomplishments make for more compelling stories. She began her career working on satellites for NASA, which she turned into a successful business venture creating and selling satellite radios, including the well-known Sirius system. When her daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension she founded a pharmaceutical company to produce a treatment; she has since begun to venture into xenotransplantation.
Rothblatt is a dedicated transhumanist. She founded the Terasem Movement Foundation and commissioned a robot doppelgänger of her wife. The archives of her blog go into more depth on her technological philosophy.