1951 - 1991

“How strange it seems that education, in practice, so often means suppression: that instead of leading the mind outward to the light of day it crowds things in upon it that darken and weary it.”

 – Lou Sullivan

As a child Lou Sullivan always enjoyed “playing boys.” At seventeen, he began a relationship with a "feminine" male lover. By 1973, Lou Sullivan, who was assigned female at birth, identified as a transgender man and began a career of activism. He wrote A Transvestite Answers a Feminist and soon after Looking Towards Transvestite Liberation articles for the Gay People’s Union News. In 1975, Sullivan moved to San Francisco and his supportive family gave him a man’s suit as a going away present. Soon after arriving, Sullivan sought gender confirmation surgery, but met with resistance due to his openly declared gay identity. As a result, Sullivan campaigned to remove sexual orientation from the list of contraindications for gender confirmation surgery. The medical establishment at the time did not believe in the possibility of a gay transgender man, but Sullivan’s existence was evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity are separate concepts. He was the first transgender man to publicly identify as gay and was instrumental in people’s understanding of how one’s sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated concepts. As an activist he championed transgender counseling, peer groups, hormonal services, and reconstructive surgery and helped to educate with the booklet Information for the Female to Male Cross-Dresser and Transsexual, a practical guide for FTMs. In 1979, Sullivan began testosterone treatments and became the first FTM counselor at the Janus Information Facility, a transgender information service. Soon after he joined the transgender social/educational organization the Golden Gate Girls, lobbying to have Guys added to the title. Following chest reconstruction, he began living full time as a gay man and continued writing and speaking on FTM issues. He was a founder of the GLBT Historical Society and helped edit and publish the organization’s newsletter. After genital reconstruction surgery in 1986, Sullivan organized FTM International, one of the first peer-support groups devoted entirely to female-to-male individuals. The same year Sullivan was diagnosed with AIDS. He completed a biography of turn-of-the-century transgender man Jack Bee Garland which was published in 1990. Throughout his illness, Sullivan devoted himself to work on behalf of FTMs and the broader transgender and LGBT communities. Sullivan’s condition worsened and on March 2, 1991, he died at age 39 of an AIDS related illness.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Transgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism




Social Justice

US History

Commemorations & Honors

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2019)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Carrie Maxwell
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell