How Black LGBTQ+ Activism Shapes Black History

Black LGBTQ+ activists have changed the course of Black history as a whole. Learn more about how these individuals have been integral to progress.

portrait of Sydney Clark
by Sydney Clark

Published on January 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Paige J. Gardner, Ph.D.

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How Black LGBTQ+ Activism Shapes Black History


Though some may view Black history and LGBTQ+ history as totally independent entities, the reality is quite the opposite.

Black queer activists have fueled countless social justice campaigns. And in turn, they have become important parts of Black liberation movements. To thoroughly explore Black history is to explore LGBTQ+ history, as the experiences of Black people, specifically Black queer people, are multifaceted.

Intersectionality Is Important

People believe that marginalized identities exist in a vacuum. A person holds one predominant identity in the public's eyes: typically race. And activism generally encompasses a singular cause or campaign. However, personalities and experiences are multifaceted and not restricted to one category.

Blackness does not "cancel" out queerness.

Many people believe that some social identities should be given precedence over others. And though the root of these beliefs may be understandable, tarnishing the validity of someone's experience to fit a narrative is detrimental.

Reducing the depth and complexity of the Black community to a one-size-fits-all form of Blackness does not advance progress. Truthfully, it reinforces the notion that Black people are a monolith and that harmful stereotypes are inherent for the community.

Due to queer erasure within the Black community, many Black LGBTQ+ people outwardly present as queer as a form of gender validity or as a signal to other community members.

Queer, Black individuals cannot be encompassed in a singular label and are ostracized (and endangered) because of it.

Individuals who have multiple identities and advocate for each one are often the backbone of social progress. Because they understand the levels of complexity in being marginalized, Black LGBTQ+ people often see how oppression can affect a person on several different systemic levels.

6 Influential Black LGBTQ+ Figures

Black queer people have always been integral parts of social justice initiatives. Intersectional systemic oppression sheds light on the different avenues in which both the Black and LGBTQ+ identities endure contempt.

Though hidden, some of the most notable figures across multiple human rights movements were (and are) Black queer people.

Bayard Rustin

A civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin was one of the most influential figures (Black, LGBTQ+, and otherwise) in human rights. Though he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were originally co-organizers of the historic March on Washington, homophobic blackmail threats led Rustin to resign from the forefront of the movement.

Marsha P. Johnson

A key figure of the Stonewall uprising of 1969, Marsha P. Johnson was a Black trans woman and advocated for BIPOC's inclusion in the mainstream gay liberation movement. A co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, she also supported transgender youth experiencing homelessness.

American novelist and activist James Baldwin sitting at a dining room table in his home.
Image Credit: Martin Godwin / Contributor / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

James Baldwin

James Baldwin was a writer and activist who greatly contributed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One of his most notable works, "Notes of a Native Son," includes pivotal essays that unveiled the complexities of being a Black gay man in America.

Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Image Credit: Robert Alexander / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Audre Lorde

Another indispensable writer and activist of human rights movements, Audre Lorde wrote very openly about her queer experiences as a lesbian. Her poems and essays focus on her identities as a woman and a queer person through the lens of Blackness.

Monica Roberts arrives to the GLAAD Gala at Metreon on September 8, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Image Credit: Kimberly White / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Monica Roberts

The creator of the TransGriot blog, Monica Roberts wrote about systemic inequality and the plight of marginalized groups. As a Black trans woman, her presence was invaluable in mainstream media, and she used it to support Black and queer voices.

Indya Moore speaks during the Business Of Fashion VOICES 2021 event at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England.
Image Credit: John Phillips / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Indya Moore

Star of the TV series "Pose," Indya Moore is a budding nonbinary queer activist. Other than the representation they bring to the media through their acting roles, they regularly advocate for Black and queer people in and out of mainstream spaces.

LGBTQ+ Rights Are Black Rights

Though Black LGBTQ+ people have given much to their communities, they still face discrimination within them.

Queer people are marginalized in every space they occupy, with a special emphasis on transgender people. However, it is critical to recognize that LGBTQ+ people are not wholly accepted as significant contributors to Black liberation. Support from queer-allies is integral to Black LGBTQ+ people and, ultimately, the Black community.

Black queer people face negative stereotypes twice over because of the intersection of their sexuality, gender identities and expression, and race. Sometimes, this disdain presents itself as ultra-targeted violence toward Black people who fit queer stereotypes.

And this kind of energy is not concentrated solely within the Black community. It also stems from non-Black people as well.

Additional support from queer-allies would help expedite the inclusion of Black LGBTQ+ people. It would unify the entire community toward fighting systemic oppression with more power. When Black queer people fight for their rights, both the LGTBQ+ and Black communities benefit.

Conclusion

As Black history is written, queerness will always be vital to its composition. Individuals like the LGBTQ+ activists who have shaped Black and queer liberation initiatives will continuously use their intersectional perspective to aid in the advancement of their communities.

In return, the communities profiting from their actions must recognize them both as assets and as human beings.


Feature Image: Noel Olson / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images

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