From Gentleman Jack to Ellen DeGeneres, how much do you know about lesbians?

Suranne Jones plays Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack (BBC)

From the history of the word lesbian to Gentleman Jack, we’ve made a lesbian history quiz for you to test out how clued up you are on abseiling lesbians and iconic lesbian kisses on TV.

Lesbian history has often not been well documented (thanks, heteropatriarchy) but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some incredible, momentous events since the days of Sappho.

We asked two queer comedians, Chloe Petts and Jodie Mitchell from The LOL Word, to play our lesbian history quiz.

Test out your lesbian trivia by playing our quiz below.

Play the lesbian history quiz.

  1. Who was Anne Lister and where did she live?
  2. The Stonewall riots are famous for being led by Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but who was the also lesbian leading the protest?
  3. Which island once sought an injunction to try and stop people from using the word lesbian?
  4. True or false: A group of lesbians once abseiled into the Houses of Parliament and made it onto live TV.
  5. When was the first lesbian kiss on UK TV and what show was it on?
  6. Which country elected the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister in 2009?
  7. When was the first known lesbian organisation founded in the United States?
  8. Which lesbian novel was banned by British courts for being ‘obscene’ because it defended “unnatural practices between women”?
  9. True or false: There is a Swedish town of 25,000 lesbians who don’t speak to men.
  10. Lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, but how did she come out?


Anne Lister, a real person who was recently the focus of BBC drama Gentleman Jack starring Suranne Jones, was born in 3 April 1791 in Halifax, Yorkshire. She famously wrote secret diaries, which were later decoded, about her lesbian relationships, travelling the world and her upper class life at Shibden Hall. Her home is now open to the public.

Three residents of Greek island Lesbos once tried to ban gay women from using the word ‘lesbian’ to describe their sexuality. The island’s name was applied to gay women in acknowledgement of the female poet Sappho, of Lesbos, who wrote love poems about both women and men in about 600 BC. Fortunately, they lost their claim.

The first lesbian kiss to air on UK TV was in 1994 in an episode of Brookside on Channel 4. The groundbreaking moment happened when Brookside’s Beth Jordache (Anna Friel) kissed nanny Margaret Clemence (Nicola Stephenson) in Britain’s first pre-watershed lesbian kiss.

The famous lesbian kiss on Brookside (Channel 4)

The famous lesbian kiss on Brookside (Channel 4)

The first known lesbian organisation to be founded in the Unites States was the Daughters of Bilitis. The group was started in September 1955 by a group of lesbians who regularly threw lesbian parties and faced violent threats as well as police raids.

It is not true that there is a Swedish town of 25,000 lesbians who don’t speak to men. However, a Chinese news agency once bizarrely reported that it existed, claiming: ‘If men transgress into the forbidden city, they will be beaten half to death. The citizens of Chako Paul are mostly engaged in the forest industry, because of such many of the women wear thick belts full of woodworking equipment.’ It sounds like a magical place but, sadly, it doesn’t exist.

The 1969 Stonewall riots are widely recognised as being led by two transgender women of colour, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Riviera. However, lesser known lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie was also heavily involved and rumoured to have even thrown the first punch. DeLarverie was a butch black lesbian who loved drag.

Stormé DeLarverie was a butch, Black lesbian

Stormé DeLarverie was a butch, Black lesbian

Section 28, which in 1988 banned anyone talking about being LGBT+ in schools and libraries in the UK, understandably provoked provoked protests up and down the country. This lesbian teacher described it as “absolutely terrifying”. Among many protests, several lesbian activists stormed the BBC News set while presenter Sue Lawley was live on air, and a group of lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords after peers voted in favour of the bill. Led by lesbian activist Sally Francis, the group used a washing line to climb over the balcony and abseil down, leading to several of them getting arrested.

In 2009, Iceland elected the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister. When Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir married, her wife Jónína Leósdóttir became the only First Lady in the world to be a same-sex spouse. They have been together since 1985, when they both left their husbands to be together.

In 1928, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness led to an obscenity trial. Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, his chancellor, Winston Churchill, and home secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks tried very hard to suppress the book. The book was finally released in Britain in 1949, after the author’s death.

DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time magazine (The Ellen Show)

DeGeneres has hosted The Ellen Show since 2003 (The Ellen Show)

Lesbian comedian and TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on the cover of Time magazine in 1997. The front cover of Ellen’s coming out interview was a photo of her with the headline: ‘Yep, I’m Gay’.