It’s Black History Month, which means we ought to spend some time telling the stories of Black LGBTQ icons. Here are a few we’ve picked out. Check back throughout the month for updates!
Lee Daniels is a film and tv writer, director, and producer. Despite being physically abused at a young age because of his sexuality, Daniels went on to produce highly successful films such as Monster’s Ball (2001) and Precious (2009). He is an outspoken advocate against child abuse. He is currently the executive producer, writer, director, and co-creator of the TV series’ Empire and Star.
Janet Mock is the first trans woman of color to write and direct a tv episode. Her work as an author and trans activist has earned her widespread recognition and numerous awards, including the Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association and recognition of her Biography Redefining Realness on the New York Times bestsellers list from 2014. She is a feminist activist striving for equality for all women, and better trans visibility.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson aka Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson (1945-1992) was a drag queen, sex worker, and trans activist most well known for her role in sparking the Stonewall riots, and pioneering the gay liberation movement and modern Pride parades. She started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which provided shelter for homeless trans youth, among other services. Despite immense challenges and discrimination, she was a fierce and unapologetic advocate of trans people of color, with a powerful and meaningful legacy.
Barbara Smith is a lesbian feminist and socialist that has focused on promoting black feminism throughout her career as a writer and scholar. She is most well known for co-founding the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist organization formed to address needs that the white feminist movement was not addressing. She continues to advocate for examining and disassembling oppressive systems of power, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and capitalism.
Bayard Rustin is best known for organizing the 1963 March on Washington and bringing Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent teachings to the United States (and to Martin Luther King Jr.). He was an incredibly effective strategist and organizer, but because he was openly gay, he faced immense discrimination in the form of beatings, silencing, imprisonment, and more. Because of that discrimination, he frequently acted as an advisor to other civil rights leaders, working tirelessly behind the scenes to advance non-violent, socialist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic change. He is easily one of the most influential figures in the civil rights movement, and was even posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 by former president Barack Obama.