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Celebrating key historical LGBTQ+ figures and their stories

  • Thursday February 1st 2024

William Fonteneau 3Sys5fg7k7a Unsplash

The history of the LGBTQ+ community is rich, but not without its battles. During Victorian England, the expression of homosexuality was widely condemned, and the community faced a lot of oppression and unfair scrutiny.

In celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, we looked back through some of the most influential figures throughout history and their stories that helped pioneer hope, reformation, and change!

Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh (1871 – 1942)


Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh was the Goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Although she grew up in England, her dad, Duleep Singh was the last King of the Sikhs/Punjab – because of this her story is often overlooked.

During her reign, Queen Victoria developed a fascination with India despite never actually visiting herself. As a result, she took a big interest in the Duleep family. Duleep Singh, the native Prince, dressed extravagantly in jewels and silks and quickly became a favourite of Queen Victoria.

Duleep’s family soon integrated into high society, and he married Bamba Muller – a woman of aristocratic descent.

Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh was their second daughter. She attended Somerville College, Oxford, and spent much of her time socialising with royalty. She was a freethinker with a strong character, a trait that was uncommon in women during this time.

Due to her family's position in society, she did not have to work, however, her Asian background made things more difficult for her compared to the average woman.

Despite this, she became an active member of the women’s rights movement and used her privilege to help others who were suffering from political persecution.

She also became a suffragist as a member of the Fawcett Women’s Suffrage Group and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

Quite noticeably, Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh developed an intimate relationship with a governess called Lina. After the First World War, it was not uncommon for women to spend a lot of time together in close communities due to a generation where a lot of young men were killed.

Eventually, Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh moved to Germany where Lina was from, after her mother died. Despite the rise in Nazi Germany, the tensions and threats she faced due to her Asian background, she continued to fight for justice and helped free many Jews during the Holocaust. Many warned her to leave Germany at the time, but she refused.

She helped organise the safe passage of many Jews to England using her connections and social status in England. However, there is no documentation on the exact numbers that she helped free. Many of the Jewish families she helped came to stay at her home in Coalhatch House, Penn, Buckinghamshire, and thanks to Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh, many families avoided concentration camps and eventual persecution.

To this day, many refer to her as the “Indian Schindler”, in honour of the German Industrialist, Oskar Schindler who helped save many Jews by hiring them in his factories.


Radclyffe Hall (1880 – 1943)

Radclyffe Hall, an English author, is best known for her novel “The Well of Loneliness” which created a scandal and faced censorship and legal battles due to its depiction of lesbianism.

Ending with the words ‘Give us also the right to our existence’, the book establishes lesbianism as a fact of life.

The novel depicts an intense intimate love story between a young girl and an older woman who abandon the expectations and restrictions of society.

The protagonist of the novel, Stephen Gordon, is a woman with masculine traits who had her clothes tailormade, cut her hair short and from a young age had very intense feelings towards other women.

Unfortunately, upon the book being published, it caused a huge scandal and was brought to trial in 1928. Sir Chartres Biron, a British barrister, ruled that although the book was dignified and restrained, all copies should be destroyed as it presented an appeal to “decent people” to sympathise with lesbian women and their struggle.

The book was later published again in 1949 as a decree was handed down in a U.S. court, which disagreed that the discussion of homosexuality itself, was obscene.

Despite the initial ban, the book became a beacon of hope and inspiration for thousands of people who were afraid to freely express their sexuality. One reader wrote to Hall stating – “it has made me want to live and go on”, and another thanked for her highlighting the “many terrors” that people faced during this time due to the oppression towards homosexuality.



Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)


Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright who became one of the most popular playwrights in the 1800s. Many believe that he paved the way for gay rights in the arts, but his legacy is also incredibly impactful on gay rights and culture in general.

Some of his most noticeable masterpieces were “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

Wilde was a spokesman for the aesthetic moment, which advocated art for art's sake. He wrote nine plays, one book, several poems, and short stories.

Unfortunately, in 1895 Wilde was sent to prison for “gross indecency” as evidence was brought forward about his homosexuality and involvement in sodomy.

In the courtroom during the trial, Wilde showed immense courage, undeniable dignity, and strength. Describing his sexuality as “a deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art… It is beautiful, fine and it is the noblest form of affection. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it”. Wilde gave this explanation of his sexuality when asked to explain the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name”, a phrase from the last line of his lover, Lord Alfred Bosie Douglas’s poem, “Two Loves”.

Wilde denied the charges against him in court as it was believed that he had recruited 12 men to take part in sodomy. He however did not deny his love for Douglas and stood firmly and proudly about his sexuality till the end.

Voices like Wilde’s provided hope and comfort in a society riddled with ignorance and hatred.

Wilde was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and hard labour; he served two years and spent the last 3 years of his life in exile.

Unfortunately, the defence of his relationship with Douglas did not benefit him in society, whilst he was alive. However, he became an icon in the gay community in the 20th century – as many saw him as a martyr to the cause, one who was not afraid to challenge societal norms and stand up for what he believed in.


Alan Turing (1912 – 1954)

Like Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing’s life and work were not fully appreciated until after his death. Alan Turing was born in 1912 and studied at the University of Cambridge and Princeton University, before going on to become a mathematician.

He worked for the British Government’s Code and Cypher School, helping to decipher military codes used by Germany and their allies. His work at Bletchley Park significantly contributed to many victories during the Second World War and it’s estimated that his contribution helped to shorten the war by 2-4 years.

After the war, Alan Turning helped with the design of the ACE (automatic computing engine) and is often referred to as “the father of the modern-day computer” due to his many achievements.

He was also openly gay and unfortunately, his brilliance was marred by persecution due to his sexuality in the early 1950s when he was arrested by the same government he served. He was found guilty of “gross indecency” but avoided prison by agreeing to undergo chemical castration. This was a hormonal treatment used to stop sex hormone production.

Sadly, his punishment caused him to become impotent and the chemical imbalance also caused him to develop breasts. During this time, around 50,000 men were convicted under the same law, and many were jailed.

Turing’s conviction led to his security clearance being removed and he was banned from continuing his consultancy work for the government communication headquarters.

On the 8th of June 1954, he was found dead due to cyanide poisoning in his home, and his death was deemed as suicide.

However, in 2013, many years after his death - Turing’s conviction was pardoned. The Justice Secretary at the time, Chris Grayling stated that “Turing deserves to be remembered for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”

In 2016, thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of now-abolished sexual offenses were also posthumously pardoned – in what is now dubbed, “Turing Law”.

The stories of these influential LGBTQ+ historical figures highlight the brilliance and bravery of many people in this community. Their resilience and contributions have helped shape history and inspired countless individuals to embrace their true selves whilst helping to work towards a more inclusive society. As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, let’s not forget the efforts of these figures and many others.