Lou Sullivan
Primary Resource:
Ellis Martin | We Both Laughed in Pleasure

Poster Location:


Lou Sullivan (1951–1991) was a trans historian, activist, writer, and founding member of the GLBT Historical Society in 1985. Lou’s life was an open book; he thoroughly documented his transition and dedicated his life to providing resources, historical context, and information to those who were looking to fulfill their true selves.

I found several meaningful parallels between Lou and myself during the research process; we are both from Milwaukee, we are both gay men, we share a love of birds, and we are both passionate queer historians and activists. 

Quoted from Visiting Lou’s “About Lou Sullivan” page:
“Lou first sought out other queer people just after high school through his job at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee which connected him to the college’s queer group, Gay People’s Union. The GPU News featured Sullivan’s earliest writings in their newsletter including the now widely-quoted “A Transvestite Answers a Feminist.”

Many medical professionals he met with throughout his transition had never heard of a female-to-gay-male. Even when it would have made transition easier, Sullivan resisted lying about his sexuality, remaining committed to his vision of authenticity. After moving to San Francisco in his mid-twenties, Sullivan became involved with Golden Gate Girls/Guys, one of the first social and educational transgender organizations to offer support to trans men.

In 1980, Sullivan published his first edition of Information for the FTM, a practical guidebook. Six years later, he organized FTM, the first peer-support group for trans men.

He left left 8.4 cubic feet of archival material from his life and studies to the GLBT HISTORICAL SOCIETY... the content of the archive includes extensive diaries as well as photographs, short stories, poems, essays, correspondences, medical research files and important primary sources related to transgender history.”

He was diagnosed with HIV in 1980; from then on he dedicated his life to two primary goals: first, publishing a history of Jack Bee Garland, a notable early example of a trans man who was attracted to men. The book, “From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland,” is available from the SF Public Library.

The second goal was to publish a selection of his diaries, which he kept over the course of his life in 24 journals. Ellis Martin and Zachary Ozma helped bring his vision to life with their book, “We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan,” published in 2019.

Lou was always frank, honest, and open about his own body transformation for the sake of others—he wanted those who were considering the transgender journey to have a point of reference and to know what questions to ask. He was very open in discussing his sexuality and the heartbreaks that came along with being trans and gay:

His impact was far reaching—he was focused on providing as much information and as many resources to his fellow trans brothers and sisters throughout his career. In this clip Bet Power discusses the meaningful way that Lou’s resources reached his community:


*Image sources indicated where available. Obituary is from the BAR. Mariette Pathy Allen’s website available here.

Additional Resources

1) Lou Sullivan: Gay Transgender Pioneer—, 6 min read. Thorough overview of Lou’s transition and lifetime of activism. 

2) Lou Sullivan’s Diaries Are a Radical Testament to Trans Happiness—New Yorker, 9/16/2019; coverage of Martin and Ozma’s publication of Lou’s edited diaries; provides a thorough but comprehensive overview of his life and activism.
3) We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan—Edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma, two Oakland-based authors, these are the edited stories from Lou’s personal diary, which he kept for most of his life.

A project of the San Francisco Arts Sommission’s Art on Market Street kiosk poster series,
funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.