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Meet LGBT History Month icon Tallulah Bankhead

(Editor's note: October is LGBT History Month, celebrated annually to recognize the notable achievements of LGBT people throughout time. Each day this month, Equality Forum will feature one LGBT icon who has made notable contributions to society and SDGLN will publish the story here in the Causes section. View previous LGBT History Month icons HERE.)

A Hollywood celebrity, Tallulah Bankhead exemplified what it meant to be a liberated woman at a time when women were Victorian and marginalized.

Bankhead’s father was a conservative Southern Democrat who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1917 until 1940. Tallulah was raised in Washington, D.C., where she received a strict religious education.

A proponent of racial integration and civil rights, Bankhead’s political values starkly contrasted with those of her family. At age 15, she moved to New York City, where she made a name for herself as an actress and bon vivant both on Broadway and in London.

In Motion Pictures magazine, Bankhead’s former assistant disclosed that the two had been sexually involved. A self-described ambisexual, Bankhead’s sexual liaisons included the British theater actress Eva Le Gallienne and jazz legend Billie Holiday. Despite Bankhead’s notoriety, she was widely admired, including by President Harry Truman.

Bankhead’s colorful personality immortalized her in ways that few actresses have achieved. Despite her many scandals, turbulent relations and provocative nature, she is remembered as a beacon of civil rights and sexual liberation.

Bankhead died in 1968.

Notable quote

"Nobody can be exactly like me. Sometimes even I have trouble doing it."