Personally, I love unconventional Black activists. There are too many ‘activists’ that speak and they don’t even have any regards for all of their people. If your activism does not include EVERY person in your community then you are no real activist. If you have a problem with having a leader who is different from you, you are not an activist.
The Black LGBTQ community has had many people step into the light to represent them, even when they were casted out by the Black and LGBTQ community. Throughout the years, progression has been made, but Black people in the LGBTQ community still suffer with the double edge sword: racism and having a different sexual orientation or gender identity.
People who identify with the LGBTQ community are valid and should be able to live their lives unapologetically like everyone else. With many of my friends and family members being a part of the community, I have become even more determined to fight for them and learn more about their history.
The activists on this list are people who were unapologetic in the way they lived. They were the embodiment of activism, representation, and confidence that many young Black LGBTQ need to see.
Marsha P Johnson
She is one the most iconic faces for LGBTQ History. I remember watching her documentary on Netflix. I felt so inspired by her journey and more driven to further understand the LGBTQ community. Marsha P. Johnson is a transgender woman and revolutionary LGBTQ rights activist. Johnson is famously known for her prominent role in the Stonewall riots.
She was born in New Jersey in Christian household which caused her difficulties in expressing herself. Johnson moved to New York after graduating from high school, where she struggled to make ends meet. According to Our History, Marsha legally changed her name after 1966, when she moved from New Jersey to Greenwich Village permanently, to Marsha P. Johnson.
Biography stated that, despite her difficulties with mental illness and numerous police encounters, whenever she was asked what the “P” in her name stood for and when people pried about her gender or sexuality, she quipped back with “pay it no mind.” She eventually became homeless and pursued multiple jobs such as panhandling and waitressing, but she was mostly a prostitute. As she experienced the nightlife on Christopher Street, she became a drag queen.
During her childhood, Johnson had engaged in cross-dressing. Johnson created her own costumes from thrift shops and more. Her fashion is defined by her beautiful, unique jewelry and hats. She quickly rose the ranks in the local LGBTQ community as a drag queen, serving as a ‘drag mother’ by helping homeless and struggling LGBTQ youth and touring the world with Hot Peaches. Johnson was known for her bold behavior, which she used to help fight injustices.
Her most well-known activism came from the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Greenwich Village included multiple establishments such as bars and nightclubs that were controlled by the mafia. Gay bars and clubs were in the village, which were places of acceptance for individuals of the LGBTQ. According to Out History, on the night/morning for June 28, 1969, police in Greenwich Village raided a known gay bar The Stonewall Inn, which Marsha P. Johnson had been at, and a violent riot followed. She did a variety of bold actions like shimmying up a lamppost to drop a heavy weight that shattered a police car’s windshield. She continued her activism by co-founding the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R) with her friend Sylvia Rivera. It was one of the first transgender rights organizations in the country.
Throughout her life, she faced many setbacks but always remained solid in herself. In 1992 after the New York Pride Parade, her body was found floating in the Hudson River. Her death was ruled a suicide, but it was obviously a murder. Like many transgender people, they are not taken seriously. There have been multiple private examinations of police reports, sealed records and interviews that revealed evidence of foul play. An investigation changed the cause of her death to ‘undetermined’ where it remained until this day.
Bisexuality is one of the few sexualities that is not well represented. Not only do I not see accurate representation, but I feel like many people use this for show. June Jordan was an author that I always looked up to. It was not until the beginning of this Pride month that I discover she was bisexual. I knew she would be a great role model for those who identify as bisexual.
Jordan was born in Harlem, New York in 1936 to Jamaican immigrants. Growing up she faced physical and emotional abuse from her father. He also played the role of encouraging her to read and write. In the early ages of her childhood, Jordan began writing poetry very early. Throughout her teenage years she was sent to multiple prep schools where she was the only Black student. She graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 1953 and soon enrolled in Barnard College. While in school she noticed the predominant white environment, she was in.
In college she met Michael Meyer and they married in 1955. Three years later they had their son Christopher. They divorced in 1965 and she would eventually come out as bisexual. When she came out, Jordan had begun to focus more on intersectionality between race, gender, and sexuality. According to Affinity Magazine, talked about the erasure bisexual people can face at the hands of everyone, including other members of the LGBT community. Jordan being vocal made her a great and realistic role model for bisexuality and bisexual Black women.
In 2002, Jordan passed away from breast cancer, but her work continues to live on by covering topics of social equality, women’s’ rights, intersectionality, sexuality, sexual freedom and more. Jordan is a true embodiment of a free Black woman in all aspects.
Pat Parker is one of the most influential lesbian activists of all time. While facing difficult circumstances, Parker continued to remain resilient and channeled it into poetry and activism. She was born in 1944 as Patricia Cooks in Houston as one of four daughters. Her father worked as a tire retreader and her mother a domestic worker. Her family suffered from poverty. She left home at 17 and moved to LA where she got her undergraduate and graduate degree.
She married Black Panther Ed Bullins in 1962 where she faced abuse. In one case, she lost her pregnancy after he pushed her down a flight of stairs. Before that when she was pregnant, she was sexually assaulted by a stranger. They eventually divorced in four years. She would marry again to Robert F. Parker, and she would divorce again in 1966. In the late 60’s, Parker identified as a lesbian and begun to read lesbian poetry at events. According to Poets, she was the author of five poetry collections. Her work includes Jonestown and other madness (Firebrand Books, 1985), Movement in Black (Diana Press, 1978), Woman Slaughter (Diana Press, 1978), Pit Stop (Women’s Press Collective, 1975), and Child of Myself (Women’s Press Collective, 1972).
Parker moved to one of the most influential places of activism, Oakland, California where she would begin her service as a medical coordinator at the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center. Her political activism began early on with involvement with the Black Panther Party. Parker would then branch out to help found the Black Women’s Revolutionary Council and Women’s Press Collective.
In 1979, Parker toured with the Varied Voices of Black Women, a group of poets and musicians which included Linda Tillery, Mary Watkins, and Gwen Avery. She even took it to the big stage at the United Nations where she traveled with delegations to Kenya and Ghana in 1985. Parker even testified in front of the United Nations about the status of women in the world such as health issues, domestic and sexual violence.
She passed away from breast cancer in June 1989. Parker efforts are celebrated through The Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library and the Pat Parker Poetry Award for black, lesbian, feminist poets. I will always admire her way with words and how she covered topics with nothing but brutal honesty. I am glad that she laid down the foundation for Black lesbian women.
Benoit is one of the new activists that I have discovered. She is a model, writer and activist who identifies as asexual. When I was introduced to the term asexual, many people used it loosely to say that they did not fuck with other people. It was not until I met a person in college that identified as asexual that I began to educate myself on the matter more. Benoit has been one of the many people that I looked to for guidance on sexuality. Her interview with SUBVRT Magazine is a great place to hear her thoughts and break down asexuality more.
Here are more links to learn even more:
Jones is another activist I am getting into. Due to her intersectionality, she helps me see things from various perspectives. She is a is a pansexual, mental health social worker, sex-positive feminist writer, public speaker, and community activist. According to Equality for HER, Jones can be recognized by her signature style and unique approach to discourse around Black American culture, critical race theory, intersectionality, women’s health and well-being.
Here is more work from Jones:
Sapphire is another bisexual icon. Her novel ‘Push’ inspired one of my favorite movies of all time ‘Precious’. Ramona Lofton, who goes by her pen name, Sapphire, is an author and performance poet who was very involved in New York’s burgeoning Slam Poetry scene at its peak. She was born in 1950 in California to a middle-class family.
Her father was a sergeant in the U.S. Her mother is a former nurse in the Women’s Army Corps. Her family faced a lot of internal divisions with incest and alcoholism which caused her mother to eventually abandon them. Her mother would eventually succumb to alcoholism again the same year that her homeless brother would be murdered in1986.
According to Black Past, Lofton dropped out of high school and moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, briefly studying chemistry and dance at the City College of San Francisco, before adopting what she described as a hippie lifestyle. During the duration of her dropping out of school, she became involved with the Black Power movement and counterculture. She also experimented with drugs.
She would eventually begin to write and perform her poetry under her pen name that came from the Black women stereotype that portrays Black women as loud, overbearing, rude, stubborn, and malicious. That stereotype, she told an interviewer, “was somehow attractive to me, especially because my mother was just the opposite. And I could picture the name on books.” In 1977, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a housekeeper and topless dancer to support herself.
Sapphire became a visible presence in New York City’s lesbian community. She joined a nonprofit organization named United Lesbians of Color for Change Inc. A big turning point in her life was in 1988 where she did an examination of her life. She revealed she was molested by her father and suspected that he did the same to one of her brothers.
Sapphire’s writing career includes various strong works that discuss sexual identity, police brutality and more. Some notable works include her self-published collection of poems, Meditations on the Rainbow followed by American Dreams and Wild Thing.