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10 Queer Black Activists Who Made History

Robyn Exton

Jan 27, 2022

10 Queer Black Activists Who Made History

This Black History Month, we’re honoring 10 important queer black activists who made history! The LGBTQIA+ community wouldn’t be what we know it is today without these leaders fighting for our freedom and equality.

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How to Honor These Changemakers in Black History

There’s no doubt that the queer Black community has made some incredible contributions throughout history, which is why it’s so important to continue to honor them.

At HER, we believe the key to doing that is by learning about these changemakers in black history. Care to join us? Then read on to find out about some of the most incredible black LGBTQIA+ leaders known to date. Let’s jump right in!

Marsha P. Johnson

Original source: Pay It No Mind documentary;
Immediate source: Wikimedia

Have you heard of The Stonewall Riots? Then you may already know the name Marsha P. Johnson goes hand-in-hand with this moment in history. This gay rights activist and self-proclaimed drag queen also just happened to be one of the leaders who fought back against the police at the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Although some veterans of the riots say that Marsha P. Johnson was the primary instigator, she insisted that she showed up once the action had already started. Whether or not she was the first on the scene, we’ll remember Johnson as a changemaker in black history.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Original Source: Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr; Immediate Source: Wikimedia

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, simply known as Miss Major, was another trans protestor at the Stonewall Riots. Not only that, but she fought for her community as a black trans activist for over 50 years, fighting for those who have been incarcerated. That may be because she faced some of her own challenges in life, including homelessness and prison time. Even though she is now 80 years old, she is still a force to be reckoned with. She is still making an impact as a black LGBTQIA+ leader as a producer on a TV show called Trans in Trumpland. Somebody grab the popcorn and a blanket because that’s one series we’re all for binging!

Sylvia Rivera

Original Source;
Immediate Source: Wikimedia

Although Sylvia Rivera was a Latinx transgender activist, she is still one of the most important leaders in QPOC history. Not only was she a key player in the Stonewall Riots, but she was also involved in African American youth activism and fighting for equality. Above all, Rivera dedicated her life to improving the lives of gay and trans youth living in the street. If fighting for silenced youth isn’t enough to call her a hero, then we don’t know what is!

Stormé DeLarverie

Promotional photo used in advertisements for the Jewel Box Revue and the subject's career as a singer.
Original source: Ad for the Jewel Box Revue;
Immediate Source: Wikimedia

Many eyewitnesses at the time recognized Stormé DeLarverie as the one who threw the first punch at the Stonewall Inn that day in 1969. Some even call her the “Rosa Parks of Stonewall” for the role she played in the riots that day. Long before that, throughout the ’50s and ’60s, DeLarverie was the first and only “male impersonator” or drag king on the scene. Although wearing a suit and tie was primarily for her work on stage, she became somewhat of a trendsetter for lesbians in New York. More than just a style icon, she remained an important leader until she passed away in 2014.

Bayard Rustin

Original Source: United States Library of Congress; Immediate Source: Wikimedia

An important gay civil rights activist in black history, Bayard Rustin was a close advisor of Martin Luther King, Jr. He became one of the most influential African American leaders as he fought for equality and non-violence for POC and the gay community. He continued to advocate for others even while facing discrimination of his own for being a black gay man — a true hero. Although a lot of his activism was behind the scenes, he was a force to be reckoned with, whose legacy continues to inspire people today.

Barbara Jordan

Original Source: United States Library of Congress; Immediate Source: Wikimedia

As the first South African American woman that was voted into the Texas Senate and the US House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan was a prominent leader throughout black history. Being a politician, lawyer, and scholar, she used her voice to fight for civil and human rights throughout her life. She would not be silenced throughout her historical political career and continued to speak up for marginalized communities. For that, we’ll never forget her!

Ron Oden

Source: BlackPast.org

How many openly gay African American men do you know in politics? To this day, not many. That’s why it was such an important moment in history when Ron Oden was elected Mayor of Palm Springs in 2003. It was a huge step towards equality for us all. Even though this was a first for California, Oden proved himself by continuously leading the community in the right direction toward equality. In addition to his activism for gay rights, he also fought to better the economy and create more jobs for the community.

Andrea Jenkins

Minneapolis City Council Member and Vice President Andrea Jenkins at the initial organizing meeting of the new term of the City Council.
Original Source: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States;
Immediate Source: Wikimedia

Did you know that history was made in January 2018? That’s when Andrea Jenkins became the first black trans woman in the nation to be elected city council president. She was even re-elected in 2021, receiving support from a whopping 86% of voters. She’s dedicated her career to helping marginalized communities in Minneapolis, including transgender people and people of color. Her work just goes to show how far we have come in terms of fighting for equality for everyone.

Phill Wilson

Original Source: HIV.gov; Immediate Source: Wikimedia

Phill Wilson is known throughout the LGBTQIA+ community for his hard work as an HIV/AIDS activist. After being diagnosed himself in the ’80s, he founded the Black Aids Institute, making it his mission to help stop the spread of AIDS in the black community. At the time, he didn’t feel like anyone was doing anything to put a stop to the pandemic, especially for black people. It was after his partner passed away from the disease, that he threw his heart and soul into activism.

Gladys Bentley

Immediate Source: Wikimedia

If you like blues then you may have heard of Gladys Bentley, or perhaps her stage name, Bobbie Minton. Being lesbian and a cross-dressing American blues singer and pianist, the world was not ready for her risqueé performances at the time. However, now we look back and appreciate the black lesbian who was bold enough to dress in men’s clothing and openly love other women.

More Ways to Celebrate Black LGBTQIA+ Leaders Who Made a Difference

These black LGBTQIA+ leaders have been at the forefront of the fight for equality and civil rights. This February, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate them and the other LGBTQIA+ activists who have made a difference in our community. Make it your mission this February to donate to an anti-racism or LGBTQIA+ rights charity, participate in an online event, or attend a Black History Month celebration in the name of these black queer leaders who made a difference.

Learn More with HER

Want to learn more about these incredible black queer leaders and activists? Download HER app and join a safe and welcoming community for QPOC and queer womxn from all walks of life. You can join in on the discussion on Black History Month in the forums, catch up on the latest events in your city, or chat with other like-minded queer women who just get you. Whether you want to meet the love of your life or find your community, HER has it all.

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Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER the world's largest brand for LGBTQ womxn & queer people. Also runs London Queer Fashion Show. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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