5 queer black icons worth celebrating all year long

As Black History Month comes to a close, the time has come for us to reflect on the history, struggles and triumphs of African-Americans in our country. Most BHM highlights discussed every February are a memorized list of civil rights leaders, trivia about a man who made innovations with peanuts, the first black womxn millionaire revolutionizing the beauty industry, and the womxn who said “no” on a bus that sparked national conversation. We even take the time to recognize the history being made now by politicians and entertainers, with movies like “Hidden Figures” honoring silenced black voices. It is important for us to also recognize black queer figures, because LGBTQ+ history is black history and many black queer contributions have gone uncelebrated. Here are some notable black queers who have left their mark that you can add to your knowledge of African-American LGBTQ+ history, all year long.

1. Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson /  Original photo from Biography.com

We can’t talk about black queer icons without mentioning the womxn who is credited for instigating the Stonewall Riots that launched the gay rights movement, which celebrates 50 years this year. However, it is also important to note Johnson along with Sylvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) after Stonewall to help homeless trans youth in New York City. With Stonewall marking the beginning of the queer revolution, it is necessary to remember that a black trans womxn was at the forefront of our civil rights.

2. Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (right) with his long-time partner, Walter Naegle /  Original photo from Rustin.org

Bayard Rustin (right) with his long-time partner, Walter Naegle / Original photo from Rustin.org

Bayard Rustin is most notable for serving as a key advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his activism with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Rustin was asked to shy away from public attention because he was openly gay in a time where homosexuality was highly targeted and would have left him unsafe. Later in life, Rustin advocated for LGBTQ+ rights up until his death in 1987.

3. Simone Bell

Simone Bell is the first openly black and lesbian womxn to serve as a state legislator as a Democratic representative for Georgia. Bell was first elected into office in 2009 to represent East Atlanta and left state government to serve as Southern Regional Director for LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Lambda Legal in 2015. While national congress has come a long way in diversity and representation, Bell reminds us to celebrate each victory that has been made.

4. Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith is a feminist and socialist that is credited with the building and sustaining of black feminism. As a co-founder of the Combahee River Collective, she helped to coin one of the earliest definitions of “intersectionality.” She also helped to found the world’s first publishing company completely run by womxn of color. Much of the discourse about race and gender today has been directly influenced by the work of Smith.

5. Miss Major

Miss Major Griffin-Gacy is another key figure in the Stonewall Riots. The Southside Chicago native fought against many police raids targeting LGBTQ+ people and served several prison sentences. Miss Major has also served on the Trans Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) as an organizer from 2005 until 2015. As an elder of the community, her work has been made into the documentary film ”MAJOR!.” 🍒