Long before Caitlyn Jenner came out, pro-tennis player Renee Richards shook up the sports world when she came out as a transgender woman. She made even greater waves later, when she returned to tennis and sued the United States Tennis Association, the Women's Tennis Association, and the United States Open Committee for her right to compete as a woman.
Although she was one of the first to take on that battle (and win!), Richards doesn't consider herself a pioneer. She told GQ in 2015 that if anything, she was a "reluctant pioneer."
"I was not an activist. It was a private act for my own self-betterment, for what I wanted to do. I wanted to go and play tennis, you know? And I wanted to stand up and say what I was... The gay world considers me a pioneer, and I’m proud that they do. But do I lie in bed thinking that I was a pioneer? No, I don’t."
As Richards told GQ, being a transgender woman isn't her whole identity, and she doesn't want it to be. "I have no doubt that when I die, the obituary headline is gonna be 'Transsexual Tennis Player Renée Richards Dies,'" she said. "I realize that being the pioneer for other transsexual people or for other downtrodden, disenfranchised people of any type is very important, but it’s really a very small part of my life."
Juliette Gordon Low
Even though she was only 28 when she died, Angie Xtravaganza rose to the top of one of the houses in New York City's drag ball culture: The house of Xtravaganza. As house mother, Xtravaganza acted as a role model to other transgender women and gay men in her house.
She and other house mothers were featured in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. In the documentary, she talks about the dangers of living as a "transexual" (what we'd probably call transgender today) in New York City, after a friend and drag daughter of hers was murdered. Only a few years after her drag daughter was killed, Xtravaganza died of complications from AIDS in 1993.
"She’d lived for over ten years as her own creation," author Michael Cunningham wrote of Xtravaganza after her death. "A ferocious maternal force who turned tricks in hotel rooms over a bar called the Cock Ring and who made chicken soup for the gaggle of friends she called her kids after they came home from a long night on the town."