February is Black History Month, a time for us to recognize the contributions of Black leaders to our world throughout time. For GLSEN, it’s a time not only to celebrate Black history as a whole, but also to recognize how Black individuals have contributed significantly to the LGBT community. Here are four of these people.
Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender rights activist and was one of the first people to fight back against the police at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, screaming for her civil rights. She along with Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the early 1970s, and they were the mothers of STAR House, which was provided food, clothing, and housing to transgender and non-gender conforming youth in NYC, one of the first organizations to advocate for and support this population. Learn more about Johnson here.
James Baldwin was an author, activist, playwright, and essayist and was one of the first people to explore the intersections of race, class, and sexuality in fiction. He was highly active in the civil rights movement, taking part in marches and helping to mobilize and motivate African Americans to fight for their civil rights in the South. Books, such as Giovanni’s Room and Another Country, are some of the first pieces of literature with clear and outright examination of same-sex relationships. Learn more about Baldwin here.
Bayard Rustin was involved in countless boycotts, protests, and initiatives aimed at protecting the civil rights of all minority groups. He played a pivotal role in the Black Civil Rights movement as an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Leaders of the movement asked Rustin to stay out of the public spotlight, for fear of being associated with what was at the time his “illegal” life as a gay man. He continued to advocate for civil rights until his death in 1987, including LGBT rights, a cause he adopted later in his life. Read more here.
Barbara Smith is a black feminist, lesbian, activist, author, publisher and elected official. In 1974, she became a co-founder of the Combahee River Collective, an organization credited with developing one of the earliest definitions of intersectionality. At the suggestion of her friend Audre Lorde, Smith also founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world's first publishing company run solely by women of color. She also served two terms on the Albany, New York, Common Council and worked in the City of Albany Mayor's Office, addressing systemic inequalities in the city. Learn more here.
These individuals make up up only a fraction of Black LGBT heroes who have shaped history. Although Black History Month is coming to a close, the end of the month does not mean the end of the conversation about Black LGBT history. Regardless of the time of year, educators can include these individuals in their curriculum, and GSAs can discuss them as a club activity. Learn more here.