Sarah Prager is no stranger to LGBTQIAP+ history books; her first, Queer, There, and Everywhere, received numerous accolades and was named a New York Public Library Best Book of 2017. I’m thrilled to have her on the site today to reveal an exclusive excerpt from her upcoming middle grade follow-up, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, which is illustrated by Sarah Papworth and releasing from HarperCollins on May 26th! (And pssst: Sarah’s holding an online launch party the same day! See details here.) Here’s the blurb:
Take a journey through the lives of fifty revolutionary queer figures who made history in this groundbreaking illustrated biography collection from the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere. Did you ever wonder who invented the computer? Or who advised Martin Luther King Jr. on his nonviolent activism? Author Sarah Prager and illustrator Sarah Papworth bring to life the vibrant histories of fifty pioneering LGBTQ+ people our history books forgot to mention. Delve into the lives of Wen of Han, a Chinese emperor who loved his boyfriend as much as his people; Martine Rothblatt, a trans woman who’s helping engineer the robots of tomorrow, and so many more! From athletes (Billie Jean King) to doctors (Magnus Hirschfeld) and activists (Marsha P. Johnson) to painters (Frida Kahlo), LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on every century of human existence. This book is a celebration of the many ways these hidden heroes have made a difference and will inspire young readers to make a difference, too.
And here’s the excerpt, with gorgeous illustrations from Sarah Papworth!
Frieda came from a musical family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and started playing cello when she was ten. Her sister says that because Frieda had small hands, she had to wrestle to handle the large instrument. Frieda conquered the cello just like she took on other difficulties in life.
Frieda, who was a lesbian, got the chance to try her hand at something else musical besides the cello—conducting. There she found her true passion. She was so talented at conducting student musicians that she got the opportunity to conduct a professional orchestra. Her friends were skeptical that she could pull it off—no woman had ever conducted a professional orchestra before in Europe! In 1937 Frieda tried . . . and succeeded.
But Frieda had to disband her orchestra in 1940 because of World War II. Frieda put her steady hands to work by forging fake identity documents for Jews. At that time in the Netherlands, the Nazis were trying to find all the Jewish people. Everyone was required to carry identification, so Frieda made documents for Jewish people to carry that said they weren’t Jewish, so they could escape. It was dangerous work, but Frieda knew it was the right thing to do.
She even helped plan a bombing of Amsterdam’s city hall so that all the original IDs were destroyed and Jewish people would be protected. After the bombing, in 1943, Frieda had to go into hiding. The Nazis captured many of the activists she had worked with on the attack, but Frieda disguised herself as a man and was able to go undetected for weeks. Her male look was so convincing that her own mother didn’t recognize her when she passed her on the street. Then Frieda escaped to Switzerland, crossing snowy mountains and fording icy rivers (even though she couldn’t swim) to get to a place where she could survive.
After the war, Frieda wanted a new life, so she moved to Southern California— somewhere to warm her heart after all the horrors she had seen. Years after her orchestra had been ended by the war, she got the chance to be a conductor again, this time with the Orange County Philharmonic until 1962. She spent her life breaking barriers in music and heroically helping people in need.
Tshepo Ricki Kgositau
Ricki didn’t just change her own life on December 12, 2017—she changed the lives of many more. On that day, a high court in her country of Botswana ruled in her favor in a historic case. But we’ll hear more about that later.
Before she was making history, Ricki was an energetic fashion-loving child playing house in rural southern Botswana, playing the part of the mommy (raising the curiosity of those around her because she had been assigned male at birth). She loved to steal her grandma’s food to pretend to cook, and play with makeup and high heels. When she moved to the capital, Gabarone, her kindergarten teachers called her parents in for a meeting to tell them there was something wrong with their “son,” who kept asking to be called a girl.
It took until middle school for Ricki’s transition to be respected. Her family got on board, and a supportive teacher encouraged her. In high school, Ricki still had to wear the boys’ uniform, but she dressed it up with bangles and wore makeup. It wasn’t until she saw Oprah’s special on Jazz Jennings on TV that she realized there was a word for who she was: trans.
One day in 2010, Ricki lost her Botswana national ID card. For someone else, getting it replaced would have been a routine inconvenience. However, when Ricki went to get it replaced, she was told that because the lost ID said she was male and she presented as female, they couldn’t give her a new one. This inconsistency around her sex on this little piece of laminated paper would turn into a years-long legal battle.
Ricki just wanted her new ID—she needed it for important things like getting a job. But to get it she needed to hire a lawyer and take on the entire government of Botswana! The case became about much more than Ricki’s ID—it would go on to affect trans rights in all of Africa. If Ricki won, it would mean no trans person in Botswana would have to go through this ordeal again. And in 2017, she won!
There was one thing left to do that her new female ID opened the door to—get married. Ricki happily wedded her love, Beltony Kanza, in 2018 in Botswana. (Always the fashionista, she designed her wedding dress herself.) This is just the beginning of her life story—and of the struggle for trans rights across her continent.
Sarah Prager is an advocate for queer history education particularly for youth. HarperCollins published her first book, Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, on May 23, 2017. The book received three starred reviews, was named an official selection of the Junior Library Guild, received five award nominations, and was named a Best Book for Teens 2017 by New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Her second book, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, will be published by HarperCollins Children’s on May 26, 2020 and is currently available for pre-order. It has already been named a Junior Library Guild selection. Sarah’s writing has been published in The Atlantic, The Advocate, HuffPost, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, Bustle, JSTOR Daily, them, Xtra, GO Magazine, Tagg Magazine, and various other outlets. Sarah has presented on LGBTQIA+ history to over 140 groups across five countries, including the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Harvard Business School, and Microsoft HQ in Times Square. She lives with her wife, two children, and three cats in central Massachusetts. www.sarahprager.com.