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16 Famous LGBT Folks Who Studied Abroad

In celebration of Pride, and in light of today's historic Supreme Court decisions, we wanted to turn the spotlight on some fantastic and famous LGBT folks who studied abroad.

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June is the official LGBT Pride month in the United States. Although various cities have Pride throughout the summer, it all officially started as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of June 28th, 1969. Stonewall is one of those historical turning points, often seen as the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement.

The Stonewall Inn was a small gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York. The famous riots began when patrons, including notable transgender activist, Sylvia Rivera, fought back against a police raid. Stonewall was commemorated the next year as Christopher Street Liberation Day, and this commemoration gave rise to modern Pride celebrations. For many, Stonewall represents an end to the closet, to fear, and to passive acceptance of discrimination and debasement.

Although much LGBT activism is focused on local communities, Pride has become an internationally recognized festival, a way for the whole community to join in solidarity that transcends (even international) borders. Read on for our (by no means exhaustive!) list of LGBT folks who have studied abroad. Is there anyone we missed!?

George Takei

George Takei: Due to his melodic voice and active internet presence, the Star Trek actor has experienced a recent surge in popularity. Mr. Sulu studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan at Sophia University. When Takei came out publicly in 2005, he had been with his partner, Brad Altman for 18 years, and he had participated in LGBT organizations. In addition to his acting career and LGBT advocacy, Takei is known for his activism within the Japanese-American community and serves as chair of the Council of Governors of East West Players.

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow: The MSNBC anchor, in addition to being the first openly gay anchor to host a prime-time news show in the US, was also the first openly gay person to win a Rhodes scholarship, which she attended Lincoln College while studying in Oxford, where she obtained a DPhil in politics. Maddow's reporting is known for its intelligence and political convictions. She and her partner, Susan Mikula, have been together since 1999.

Alice Walker

Alice Walker: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her novel, The Color Purple, Alice Walker studied abroad in Kenya and Uganda with the Experiment in International Living while she attended Sarah Lawrence College. In addition, her article "In Search for Zora Neal Hurston" was extremely influential in reviving interest in the novelist. She also had a relationship with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper: An anchor for CNN, Anderson Cooper came out publicly in 2012. After high school, he spent a several months traveling around southern Africa. He also took a year off of reporting early in his career to study in Vietnam for a year and learn Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi. As a correspondent and anchor he has won 5 Emmy Awards and a Peabody. In addition, his coverage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti earned him a National Order of Honor and Merit from the Haitian Government.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde: The poet, activist, and essayist spent a year at the National University in Mexico, during which she confirmed her identities as a lesbian and a poet. Lorde also went on to spend an extended amount of time studying in Berlin. Lorde's work on the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender challenged racism within white feminist movements. Her poetry was multicultural and demonstrated the complex and dynamic of an intersectional selfhood.

Richard Rodriguez

Richard Rodriguez: The journalist and essayist attended the Walburg Institute while studying abroad in London, England on a Fulbright scholarship. Rodriguez's books have won critical acclaim. He came out in his 1992 collection of essays, Days of Obligation: Arguments with my Mexican Father, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Richard Rodriguez is highly influential in many Latin American LGBT communities.

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag: The theatre theorist attended St Anne’s College, Oxford through the American Association of University Women’s fellowship and then went on to study in Paris. Her 1964 essay, "Notes on 'Camp'" launched her career as an international intellectual icon. Sontag was open about her bisexuality throughout her life, and had several relationships with women, including notable Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornez. Sontag maintained a relationship with photographer Annie Leibovitz until the end of her life.

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault: One of the most influential theorists of the 20th Century, Foucault worked on his doctoral thesis at University of Uppsala in Sweden. One of his most famous works is his unfinished project, The History of Sexuality, which examines the ways in which identity becomes tied to sexuality. From the 1970's onward, Foucault taught in the United States with increasing frequency, particularly at UC Berkeley. In response to Foucault's death in 1984, his partner of 21 years, Daniel Defert, founded the first French AIDS awareness organization.

Cole Porter

Cole Porter: Composer of the first Tony Award-winning musical, Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter studied music at the Schola Cantorum while studying in France. During his stays in Paris and then Hollywood, Porter lived, somewhat paradoxically, as an openly-closeted gay man; he courted many close connections with men, while still maintaining a public heterosexual facade with his wife, Linda Lee Thomas. His songs, considered standards, have been sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Holiday.

Del Lagrace Volcano

Del Lagrace Volcano: The shocking queer identified, genderqueer photographer did a masters in photographic studies at University of Derby in England. Volcano's often explicit photographic work, including photo series on butch lesbians and drag kings, celebrates subversive masculinities and uses 'technologies of gender' to challenge and deconstruct societal norms.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein:“The world is everything that is the case” Wittgenstein said, and he certainly saw enough of the world to have an idea what that case might be. The famous philosopher spent a summer studying in Germany. He also studied Mechanical Engineering in Berlin. He and partner David Pinsent also traveled to Iceland and Norway, where Wittgenstein went on to live. Wittgenstein's influence still remains in many humanistic fields.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich: Rich won a Guggenheim fellowship for her poetry to work in Oxford, England for an academic year. However, while vacationing in Florence, she left Oxford and chose to explore Italy as an international student instead. Known for her beautiful poetry and lyric and compelling essays, Rich is an influential feminist theorist. Her death in 2012 was mourned worldwide.

Susan Stryker

Susan Stryker: Professor at University of Arizona and co-editor of the Transgender Studies reader, Susan Stryker also served as a visiting professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, where she also conducted some of her research. An openly lesbian transgender woman, Stryker has received a Public Broadcasting Service Local Hero Award and a Community Vanguard Award from the Transgender Law Center.

John Amaechi

John Amaechi: The first former NBA player to come out publicly, Englishman John Amaechi moved to the United States in high school to play basketball while earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State. Before challenging homophobia in the world of professional sports, Amaechi played on Euroleague and Intercontinental Cup Championship-winning teams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt: In her youth, Eleanor Roosevelt attended Allenswood Academy, a finishing school outside of London, England. Although best-known as First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt went on to serve on the UN Commission of Human Rights and chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Throughout her life, she garnered international respect and admiration. She also maintained a close romantic relationship with an AP reporter, Lorena "Hick" Hickok, throughout the 1930s.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde: After beginning his university education at Trinity College in his native Dublin, Ireland, Wilde won a competitive scholarship to continue his studies at Magdalen College in Oxford. It was here that the famous wit and writer established his reputation as an aesthete. Oscar Wilde's obscenity trial, which sought and succeeded to convict him of 'gross indecency' popularized the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name”. Oscar Wilde has long been a source of historical inspiration for many in the LGBT community.

Some cultures, where acceptance of the LGBT community is even higher than in the U.S., can provide an opportunity for students to explore a different LGBT culture. Another student I spoke with said that experiencing the welcoming atmosphere of Paris was actually an eyeopening experience that allowed him to gain a new perspective and renewed comfort with his sexual orientation. -- Kristen Shalosky

Although new victories in LGBT rights are being won everyday, the worldwide inequalities and disparities can make going abroad a daunting experience for LGBT students. However, the chance for international connections and learning opportunities is not something that has to be foregone. There are a lot of resources out there for folks looking to study abroad. Many scholarships exist specifically to aid LGBT students in funding their study abroad (see below!).

In addition, many cities have travel guides to help LGBT visitors connect with the community in foreign locations. Autostraddle provides city guides for LBT women, while OutTraveler and GayTravel provide guides that tend to be more geared for gay men.

Lastly, NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, has a Rainbow Special Interest Group that provides both support to and online resources for LGBT students going abroad. In addition, looking for an LGBT community center in your study abroad destination is one more great way to get the information you need.

Happy Pride and Happy Traveling!

Robin Goralka
Robin Goralka is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, where, in addition to getting her degree in English Literature, she served on the executive slate f Read More...