• Wed. May 25th, 2022

Mark Schleeter: A Sample of Black LGBTQ+ Pioneers | Columnists

Marc Schleeter

February is Black History Month. However, black history also includes LGBTQ+ people. Here are some notable Black LGTBQ+ people:

Gladys Bentley (1907-1960) She was a genre performer during the Harlem Renaissance. Donning a top hat and tuxedo, Bentley sang the blues at Harlem establishments. She was Harlem’s most famous lesbian and one of the best-known black artists in the United States.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) Gay civil rights activist best known as a key adviser to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He organized the 1963 March on Washington.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) Writer and social critic best known for his 1955 collection of essays, “Notes of a Native Son”, and his groundbreaking 1956 novel, “Giovanni’s Room”, which depicted themes of homosexuality and bisexuality.

Martha P Johnson (1945-1992) Who was a transgender woman and outspoken transgender rights activist. She is said to be one of the central figures of the historic Stonewall uprising in 1969.

Ron Oden (b. 1950) He made history when he was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, becoming the first openly gay African-American man elected mayor of a city in the United States.

Phil Wilson (b. 1960) A prominent African-American HIV/AIDS activist. Wilson founded the Black Aids Institute in 1968, inspired by the death of his partner from an HIV-related illness and Wilson’s own HIV diagnosis.

Andrea Jenkins (b. 1961) Became the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the United States when she was elected to a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in 2017.

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1995) was a closeted lesbian best known as playwright for “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Alvin Aley (1931-1989) a gay choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. It was one of the most important dance companies in the world.

Andre Lorde (1934-1992) A self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, feminist, mother, warrior poet” who made lasting contributions to the fields of feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory.

Ernestine Eckstein (1941-1992) Leader of the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) A closeted lesbian who was a civil rights leader. She was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate in 1966 and the first African-American elected to Congress.

Willi Ninja (1961-2006) was a dancer, choreographer and the “grandfather of Vogue”, the style of dance he helped propel onto the national stage.

This is just a short list of LGBTQ+ African Americans. Unfortunately, their contributions often go unnoticed simply because they are LGBTQ+.

We are fortunate to have the African American Historical and Genealogical Society here in Decatur, which promotes black history. Unfortunately, African American LGBTQ+ people sometimes get lost in the process.

Although not in Decatur, there is an organization in Champaign called “The National Association of Black and White Men Together” (NABWMT). The name is misleading as it is a multicultural gay organization dedicated to anti-racism. They engage in educational, political, cultural and social activities to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and other inequalities. Anyone interested in NABWMT, email Sebastian Brown: brownsebasian6@gmail.com.

In a nutshell, black history cannot be separated from black LGBTQ+ history.

Mark Schleeter is President of Decatur PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).