Hey, everyone! Sooooo… I meant to publish this post earlier – like, not just earlier today, but several weeks earlier. BUT I still needed to do some research, and I didn’t really have a chance to do any of that until now.
Anyway, I wanted to post something for Black History Month, but… well, I’m not black, obviously, so I can’t talk about what it’s like to be black. I was torn between making a list of MG and YA books with black protagonists, and writing about black LGBTQ+ people you should know about, but I finally made my decision!
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and it also won’t tell you everything there is to know about the individuals mentioned here – go out and do some research! RESEARCH IS FUN.
Unless it’s for school and then it’s horrible.
Also, this list features pretty much only LGBTQ+ African-Americans. (Josephine Baker is the exception, I guess, because she’s French, but she was still born her, so I don’t even know.) What I’m trying to say is that I’d like to apologize in advance to those of you who hoped I would talk about places other than America, but I’m just not super knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ black people who aren’t from the US. TELL ME ABOUT PEOPLE I SHOULD KNOW OF IN THE COMMENTS, IF YOU’D LIKE. I’d love to find out more!
Well, I’ve rambled on long enough already, so HERE IS MY POST.
1. Langston Hughes
(1902 – 1967)
One of my favorite poets! The way historians have treated his sexual orientation kind of reminds me of how they view Shakespeare, to be honest – both of them wrote a lot of poems that are pretty clearly about men, and yet there is a tendency to cover our ears and go “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” whenever anyone points that out.
2. Josephine Baker
(1906 – 1975)
Josephine Baker did all of the things, peoples. ALL OF THE THINGS. She grew up really poor and made ends meet by dancing, and eventually ended up in Paris. She was the first black woman to star in a major film! She also worked as a spy for the French Resistance during WWII (!!!), had an affair with Frida Kahlo (!!!!!) and was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, so much so that Coretta Scott King asked her to be an unofficial leader after MLK was assassinated (!!!!!!!!!!). To top it off, she adopted twelve children from a bunch of different countries.
HOW DID SHE EVEN FIND THE TIME TO DO ALL OF THOSE THINGS. HOW. I WANT TO KNOW HER WAYS. Alsoooooo someone totally needs to write a YA novel about her because that would be awesome! Maybe this will be my next project?!
3. Bayard Rustin
(1912 – 1987)
THIS GUY DESERVES TO BE BETTER KNOWN. He played a huge role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington! Unfortunately, he was forced to resign from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference because numerous board members were concerned that allowing a gay man to be a member would hurt the image of the Civil Rights Movement.
4. James Baldwin
(1924 – 1987)
I’ve read only a little bit of Baldwin’s writing, and I definitely want to read more of it this year! His novel Giovanni’s Room was one of the first modern LGBTQ+ novels, and he also wrote essays about the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and class.
5. Alvin Ailey
(1931 – 1989)
I was worried that this list might be too biased towards writers, because that’s who I’m most familiar with, so I thought I’d include a dancer! Ailey was a dancer, choreographer, and activist, and was unfortunately among the first cultural icons to die of HIV/AIDS.
6. Audre Lorde
(1934 – 1992)
I JUST WANT TO HUG AUDRE LORDE FOR ALL SHE WROTE AND DID HER IN LIFETIME. She was an essayist and poet who wrote about being black, female, and a lesbian, and she fought hard for intersectional feminism. She was particularly critical of straight women who either ignored lesbians or outright refused to identify as feminists out of fear that people would think they were lesbians. The Brooklyn-based Audre Lorde Project is named after her and supports queer people of color and their activism.
7. Barbara Jordan
(1936 – 1996)
FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN FEMALE SENATOR HELL YEAH. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and her 1976 Democratic National Convention keynote address is considered one of the top one hundred speeches of the twentieth century!
8. Alice Walker
(1944 – present)
I hardly feel that she needs an introduction, because… The Color Purple, anyone? The Pulitzer Prize? But yeah. She’s been involved in a lot of anti-war activism, too, which I think is cool.
9. Marsha P. Johnson
(1945 – 1992)
Along with Sylvia Rivera – a Latina trans woman – Marsha P. Johnson was at the 1969 Stonewall Riots that kicked off the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. She also organized the very first Pride parade!
I only wish she were better known. It’s unfortunate that trans women of color are so often ignored in favor of white gay men – I mean, Harvey Milk is awesome and everything, but he definitely didn’t start the movement and if I’m being honest, I think he gets a little too much credit.
10. Jacqueline Woodson
(1963 – present)
I read Brown Girl Dreaming, her autobiography told in verse, a few years ago and really loved it! She’s written several other novels about queer black girls, including The House You Pass on the Way, and I need to get my hands on them ASAP because there is a sad lack of stories about A) queer girls, B) queer people of color, and C) people who are both.
11. Roxane Gay
(1974 – present)
TBH, Roxane Gay is #goals. Queer feminist writers?! YESSSSS. I read her essay collection, Bad Feminist, last year and it has since become one of my all-time favorites. (I pull it off the shelf a lot and reread an essay or two whenever I’m feeling bored or down. Is that a weird thing to do with nonfiction?) I love how she tells it like it is and explores intersectional feminism through her writing!
12. Alicia Garza
(1981 – present)
She inspired the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag! She works to end racism, police brutality, and violence against trans and gender-nonconforming people of color.
13. Janet Mock
(1983 – present)
LITERALLY WHY WOULD YOU ADMIRE HORRIBLE PEOPLE LIKE CAITLYN JENNER WHEN YOU COULD ADMIRE SOMEONE AWESOME LIKE JANET MOCK. She has written extensively about transgender issues, especially those facing the African-American community, and her autobiography, Redefining Realness, was published in 2014. (Which reminds me… I still need to read it. UGH I HAVE SO MANY BOOKS TO READ WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN.) She also cites Alice Walker as an influence on her writing, so yayyyy for queer women supporting each other!
13. Laverne Cox
(1984 – present)
LAVERNE COX IS ONE OF MY HEROES. She was actually supposed to speak at my school earlier this month, but there was a last-minute scheduling conflict and I’m anxiously waiting to find out the date for the rescheduled program, because I’m just that excited. SHE IS INCREDIBLE. She’s a really talented actress and constantly fights for LGBTQ+ rights!
14. Patrisse Cullors
(1984 – present)
She is a friend of Alicia Garza and created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag! She fights for criminal justice reform.
(This is only somewhat related, but check out this super cute article I found about two women who met as protesters at Ferguson and later ended up getting married! MY LITTLE GAY HEART CAN’T HANDLE ALL OF THIS ADORABLENESS. OH LOOK AT THEIR CUTE LIL SMILES. I GET SO FREAKING EMOTIONAL ABOUT SAME-GENDER WEDDINGS LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.)
15. Frank Ocean
(1987 – present)
When Frank Ocean was a teenager, the recording facility he used was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, so he moved to LA to try his luck there. He ghostwrote songs for John Legend, Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, and others, and then moved on to writing his own music. He is often cited as one of the first rappers to come out as LGBTQ+.
16. Angel Haze
(1992 – present)
I HAVE APPROXIMATELY 8356324 FEELINGS ABOUT ANGEL HAZE’S MUSIC. They’re a pansexual, agender rapper with a mix of African-American and Native American ancestry, and a lot of their songs deal with difficult topics – rape, homophobia, growing up in a cult, self-harm, et cetera – but are ultimately hopeful. Some of my favorites include “Same Love,” “Battle Cry,” “Deep Sea Diver,” “Dirty Gold,” and “A Tribe Called Red.”
17. Amandla Stenberg
(1998 – present)
Amandla Stenberg is proof that age =/= awesomeness, because she is clearly THE AWESOMEST OF THEM ALL. Still, sometimes I can’t believe she’s younger than me! She is best known for her portrayal of Rue in The Hunger Games, but she has done so much more than that – she spoke out against cultural appropriation and CO-AUTHORED HER OWN FREAKING COMIC BOOK. She also came out as bi super recently… like, January? SO YEAH. SUPER SUPER RECENTLY. GO AMANDLA.
I know for a fact there are are lots and lots of other LGBTQ+ African Americans (and LGBTQ+ people of color in general, while we’re at it) that I either am not aware of or don’t know as much about, so tell me about the people you look up to! I think it’s really important to study the history and contributions of LGBTQ+ black people to the greater LGBTQ+ rights movement, because it is all too often whitewashed and therefore gives us a skewed view of history.