Nine Inspirational Transgender People - RightsInfo

Nine Inspirational Transgender People

This week we’ve been celebrating the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Read our Explainer on how human rights protect transgender people and the long journey to transgender rights recognition to understand the struggle for transgender equality. Today we celebrate inspirational transgender people throughout time.

1. Lili Elbe

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Lili Elbe was a Danish painter who broke new ground as one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery.

She was married to Gerda Gottlieb – who was also a painter and illustrator – and realised she identified as a woman after posing in women’s clothes for Gerda’s paintings. In 1930, Lili bravely underwent four dangerous, experimental gender reassignment surgeries. Sadly, Lili died from resultant complications, but the medical notes from her surgery served as a starting point for future successful sex change operations, including Christine Jorgensen’s (coming up next).

Her story was portrayed in the 2015 film The Danish Girl, starring Eddie Redmayne.

2. Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen was the first person to undergo a successful sex change that involved both surgery and hormone therapy, in the early 1950s. A former army officer, she endured high levels of press scrutiny in her home country, the USA, over the change.

Her very public change from a man to a woman prompted new levels of public dialogue in the US about gender identity and gender dysphoria (when someone feels they are trapped in the wrong body).

3. Renee Richards

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A star tennis player, Renee Richards made history by fighting the US Tennis Association’s decision to deny her entry into the Women’s Category of the 1976 US Open and to use genetic testing as a condition of entry. In a landmark ruling for transsexual rights, the New York Supreme Court confirmed she was a woman so should be allowed to play in the women’s tournament. The court also said the use of genetic testing violated her human rights and was “grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable”.

4. Caroline Cossey (Tula)


Model Caroline Cossey was cast as a Bond Girl extra in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only. The media coverage that followed exposed her gender identity and the bigotry she encountered as a result led her to quit the show business industry. She later admitted that this ordeal led her to attempt suicide. Despite this she went on to be the first trans model to pose in Playboy and wrote an autobiography in 1981 called I am a Woman.

She married a man on 21  May 1989, just weeks after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided to legally recognise her as a woman. Sadly, on 27 September 1990 the ECHR overturned their decision on an appeal by the British Government. In 1991 she wrote a second, inspirational autobiography, My Story.

5. Angela Morley

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Angela Morley was an English composer and conductor: she wrote scores for BBC radio shows, Hollywood films and TV shows, such as Dallas and Dynasty. Even though many people think it was Laverne Cox, Morley was actually the first openly transgender person to win an Emmy Award (for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction), first in 1988, and again in 1990, and to be nominated for an Academy Award.

6. Christine Goodwin

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Christine Goodwin found that as a transgender woman, she was not entitled to the same employment, social security and pension rights as those born female. For example, she was not able to marry and had to pay National Insurance contributions until the age of 65 (the age required for men at the time) instead of 60 (the age for women).

She launched a legal challenge against this and in 2002 the ECHR unanimously held that the UK’s failure to recognise her new identity in law breached her rights to respect for privacy and her right to marry. You can read our case summary here.

7. Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox has continued Angela Morley’s legacy of transgender women wowing Hollywood. She is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category, for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on the Netflix television series Orange is the New Black. She has become a prominent advocate of LGBT rights, recently speaking out against the proposed law in North Carolina that forces transgender people to use public toilets according to the gender on their birth certificates.

8. Thomas Beatie

Thomas Beatie USE

Thomas Beatie, born Tracy Lehuanani LaGondino, is an advocate for transgender and sexuality issues, with a focus on trans fertility and reproductive rights. He underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2002 and was known as ‘The Pregnant Man’ when he became pregnant through artificial insemination in 2007.

9. Sarah Savage

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Sarah Savage is an incredible and innovative transgender rights campaigner. She underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2011. Seeking to break down outdated gender stereotypes, she has written a book aimed at pre-schoolers and seven year olds where the reader must decide on the gender of ‘Tiny’, the main character. The book, called Are you a Boy or are you a Girl? aims to get children, parents and teachers alike “talk gender creatively and with confidence”.

Featured image and seventh image © Troll Hare,  used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence. Eighth Image © University of Missouri-Kansas City, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic Licence.

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About the Author

Hayley Chapman

Hayley is a Legal Fellow at International Justice Mission, the world's largest anti-slavery charity, where she works specifically on cases of cybersex trafficking of children. Before joining IJM Hayley worked at Leigh Day in the Personal Injury department, and volunteered with the human rights charity Reprieve. Hayley holds a BA in History from Cambridge University and studied law as a Cohen scholar at BPP University and a Lord Brougham scholar at Lincoln's Inn. View all posts by Hayley Chapman.
Nine Inspirational Transgender People
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