(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.)
In 2014 Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. The defensive end was drafted by the St. Louis Rams and spent time on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes in 2015, but stepped away from the team just months later, citing “personal reasons.”
The native Texan overcame a difficult childhood, living at one point in his mother’s car. Sam showed talent for football in high school, where he played both defensive and offensive tackle. He was offered several scholarships and chose to attend the University of Missouri to play for the Tigers. He is the first of his family to attend college.
Sam was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and was a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award. In 2014 he helped Missouri beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
When Sam was drafted into the NFL, his emotional reaction was broadcast on national television, during which he kissed his boyfriend. President Barack Obama congratulated him, along with the Rams and the NFL, for “taking an important step forward today in our nation’s journey.” Sam’s name and number 96 became the sixth-best-selling jersey in the NFL that season.
In 2015, when Sam signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes, it made him the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In 2015 he also competed on the 20th season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Sam has received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and was named GQ’s Man of the Year. He was a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.
“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am.”
Barbra “Babs” Siperstein is the first openly transgender at-large member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Born Barry Siperstein, she transitioned when she was nearly 50 years old. She legally changed her name in 2007. Siperstein is currently a member of the DNC’s executive committee. She serves as deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and is the political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey.
She has been instrumental in amending the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to protect transgender people. She also advocated for gender-identity nondiscrimination to be added to the DNC bylaws.
A U.S. Army veteran, Siperstein has spent most of her life as an advocate for equality with an unwavering dedication to transgender rights and awareness. In her home state of New Jersey, she has been involved in more than a half dozen organizations, including the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats and Garden State Equality.
She has been New Jersey’s first transgender delegate to the Democratic National Convention. She served on former Governor Jon Corzine’s Labor and Workforce Development Policy Group and is the co-author of The Dallas Principles, a set of eight precepts for achieving full LGBT equality.
In 2004 Siperstein received the New Jersey Personal Liberty Fund’s Honors Award. In 2011 she became the first recipient of Garden State Equality’s John Adler Icon of Equality Award. Subsequently, she was honored as a Champion of Civil Rights by the New Jersey Chapter of the New Leaders Council; she received the Stonewall Legacy Award from The Pride Network; and she was recognized with the 2015 Advocacy Humanitarian Award by the American Conference on persity.
Siperstein came out first to her wife, Carol. The couple remained married until Carol’s death in 2001.
With her daughter Jana, Siperstein owns and operates Siperstein Fords Paints Corp., a specialty coatings supplier and home décor retailer. She has three grandchildren.
“If gays and lesbians are second-class citizens, what was I as a single transgender person?”
Dusty Springfield was an English singer and record producer best known for her sultry, soulful sound. Born Mary Isobel Bernadette O’Brien in London (she got the nickname Dusty for playing football with the boys), Springfield was one of the most successful British female performers in history, with six top 20 singles in the United States and 16 in Europe. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame.
In 1958 Springfield joined her first singing group, The Lana Sisters, later forming The Springfields with her brother. She first received attention for her hit “I Only Want to Be With You,” and later with a string of solo songs like “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Springfield received acclaim in 1969 when she released “Dusty in Memphis,” an album that was awarded a prestigious spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. She also became known for her blonde bouffant, heavy makeup and colorful evening gowns—a style emblematic of the Swinging Sixties.
Springfield spent many years out of the public eye, reappearing in 1987 to collaborate with the Pet Shop Boys on “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” which topped both the U.S. and U.K. music charts. By the 1990s, Springfield’s music was experiencing a renaissance, appearing on several film soundtracks, including “Pulp Fiction.”
During the late 1960s and early ’70s, Springfield was romantically linked to Norma Tanega, a California-born singer-songwriter who wrote a few of Springfield’s songs such as “Go My Love.” During an interview in 1970, Springfield said, “People say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I’m not anything.”
She was linked to many women during her life, including photojournalist Faye Harris and singer Carole Pope. In 1982 she married actress Teda Bracci, whom she met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Though the wedding wasn’t legally
recognized, they lived together for two years.
Later in life, Springfield became a camp icon, attracting gay fans and drag impersonators. In 1994 a breast cancer diagnosis took a toll on her career.
Springfield’s inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came just two weeks after her death. At the induction, her friend Elton John said, “I just think she was the greatest white singer there has ever been … Every song she sang, she claimed as her own.”
“My sexuality has never been a problem to me, but I think it has been for other people.”