We kicked off our celebration of Black LGBTQ leaders for Black History Month by asking what other Black leaders could be added to our ever-growing list. We were so humbled by the level of community response and inspired by the conversations sparked by these courageous trailblazers and their dedication to justice. We hope these types of conversations will continue beyond Black History Month and that we will continue to acknowledge and support the wealth of leadership shown by Black LGBTQ leaders past and present.
Thanks to everyone who joined us in honoring Black LGBTQ leaders and icons. And our deepest thanks to the inspiring Black LGBTQ leaders for paving the way for future generations. Here at GLAD, we remain committed to advocating for racial and economic justice and to be part of the effort to amplify voices in our community that aren’t always heard.
Black LGBTQ Icons
Keith Boykin is a CNN political commentator, New York Times best-selling author, journalist, actor and public speaker. He also teaches at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University. Boykin co-founded the National Black Justice Coalition, a Washington-based civil rights organization dedicated to fighting racism and homophobia. His four books have all been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, including his most recent book, “For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough.” That work also won the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Nonfiction in 2013. Boykin served in the White House as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, where he was once the highest ranking openly gay person in the Clinton White House. He also helped organize and participated in the nation’s first ever meeting between a sitting president and leaders of the LGBTQ community.
Angela Davis is best known as a radical Black educator, author, and activist for civil rights and other social justice issues. She began her life as an organizer as a teenager when she organized interracial study groups, which were then broken up by the police. In her early life as an academic she was hired to teach at the University of California in Los Angeles, Davis was fired for her association with communism. She fought the administration in court and was reinstated.
Outside of academia, Davis had become a strong supporter of three prison inmates of Soledad Prison. These three men—John W. Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Lester Jackson—were accused of killing a prison guard after several African American inmates had been killed in a fight by another guard. Many thought these prisoners were being used as scapegoats because of political work within the prison. Davis was charged with aiding the attempted escape of Jackson and served roughly 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. She later co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish prisons.
In 1997, she came out as a lesbian during an interview with Out Magazine. Davis now works as a professor and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights, gender equity, prison abolition, and anti-racism. She also lectures at events nationwide and was an honorary co-chair at the 2017 Women's March on Washington.
Billy Strayhorn (November 29, 1915 – May 31, 1967) was a gifted composer who is best known for his collaboration with Duke Ellington and wrote the jazz standard “Take the A-Train.” He was a brilliant jazz artist – indisputably a genius – and many claim he could have been as famous as Ellington, but for the fact that he chose live as an openly gay man knowing the limitations it would place on his life and career. He was also a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and arranged "King Fit the Battle of Alabama'" for the Ellington Orchestra. In his autobiography, Duke Ellington noted what he considered Strayhorn's "four major moral freedoms": freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity; freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might possibly help another more than it might himself; freedom from the kind of pride that might make a man think that he was better than his brother or his neighbor.
Everette Lynn Harris
Everette Lynn Harris (June 20, 1955 – July 23, 2009) was an openly gay American author who was best known for his depictions of African-American men who were on the down-low and in the closet. Many of the emotional struggles his characters experienced mirrored his own history of struggling with his sexual orientation. He wrote a dozen books, ten of which reached The New York Times Best Seller list including If This World Were Mine, A Love of My Own and Any Way the Wind Blows. He also penned a memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, which chronicles his rise to fame and his struggles, including his suicide attempt in August 1990. Harris was among the most successful African-American or gay authors of his time.
Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was a leader in the social movements for socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. Rustin was a leading strategist of the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 to 1968. A practitioner of nonviolence, he helped to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge racial segregation. Alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. he also helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin became also led the AFL–CIO's A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of previously all-white unions and also advanced and campaigned for A Freedom Budget for All Americans, linking the racial justice to economic justice. As a gay man, Rustin was attacked as a "pervert" and "immoral” leader by opponents as well as black leaders. As a result, he rarely served as a public spokesperson and instead acted as an influencer and strategy shaper behind the scenes. In the 1980s, he became a vocal advocate for gay and lesbian rights. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Jarrett Hill is most notably known for breaking the Michelle Obama/Melania Trump RNC plagiarism story. Hill is a contributor with NBC News, The New York Times, and The Hollywood Reporter, and is currently a producer in residency at Buzzfeed, creating content with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Hill has provided perspective and analysis for CNN International, MSNBC, Access Hollywood Live, NBC Nightly News, and many others, and was named to the 2016 Ebony Power 100. Hill has also worked in radio, television and digital media for local, national, and international outlets for more than 16 years; including iHeart Radio, CNN, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, Fox, TBS, and the UK's ITN. Jarrett reported daily for the ABC affiliate in Tampa, FL, ABC Action News, presenting reports on diverse topics, from trending technology to social media and breaking news.
Steven Jamal Hanton is a business and finance lawyer at Nixon Peabody LLP. Part of his legal practice involves representing unaccompanied minors facing deportation to help them attain legal permanent residency within the United States. He was a Pritzker and Balfour-Chenault Scholar at Tufts University. He obtained his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School as a Newborn-Johnson Scholar, where he was vice-president of the Black Law Students Association and worked with local start-ups in Detroit focused on improving life within the city. Now back in Boston, Steven is co-chair of the NJ SEEDS Boston Chapter and co-host of Men of Melanin Magic, a grassroots organization dedicated to creating events for queer and trans men of color in Boston.
Seth Pearson is an associate and business lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP in Boston and spends much of his free time working with youth from low income and marginalized populations. While in law school at Duke University he served in many leadership positions including as President of OUTLaw, President of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, member of the President's Council on Black Affairs, member of Search Committee for Director of Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity 2016, and worked closely with the Graduate and Professional Student Coalition Diversity Committee on establishing racial sensitivity and diversity training across the nine Duke Graduate and Professional schools. Pearson also served at the pleasure of the President as a White House Intern in the Executive Office of the President under the Obama Administration. Pearson was named as one of ‘2016's Best and Brightest’ by Tipping the Scales and was recently named one of ‘2018's 40 under 40 LGBTQ Business Leaders in America’ by Business Equality Magazine.
Elle Hearns is an accomplished organizer, speaker, strategist, writer and a co-founding member of the Black Lives Matter network. She has been honored with the Young Women’s Achievement Award for Advocacy and Organizing by the Women’s Information Network, the Black Feminist Human Rights Defender award by Black Women’s Blueprint, and was named a Woke 100 honoree by Essence Magazine. Hearns is currently the Executive Director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an organization founded in 2015 that works to create a crucial entry point for Black transgender women to advocate for an end to violence against all trans people through advocacy, transformative organizing, restoration, civil disobedience, and direct action.
Zahara Green is the Founder and Executive Director of TRANScending Barriers Atlanta, a trans-led, trans-issue focused non-profit organization whose mission is to empower the transgender and gender non-conforming community in Georgia through community organizing with leadership building, advocacy, and direct services so that lives can be changed and a community uplifted. Zahara is a board director and board treasurer of Black & Pink Inc, a prison abolitionist organization supporting LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners. Green is a formerly incarcerated trans women of color who spent five years incarcerated with most of her time in solitary confinement. While incarcerated, Zahara rights were violated and she sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for violating her civil rights, which was the experience that inspired her to create TRANScending Barriers.
Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was an American lawyer, educator, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, and the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She was also the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. Among numerous honors, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her passion for the rule of law and the constitution was well known. She once stated, "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution." She also fought for government and societal recognition of all people, especially people of color, declaring from her position on the House Judiciary Committee, "I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision I have finally been included in 'We, the people.' " Jordan was never public about her sexual orientation or the relationship she had with Nancy Earl, her companion of 20 years. Had she been out, she would have been the first lesbian known to have been elected to the United States Congress.
CeCe McDonald is an activist, speaker and icon in the LGBTQ community. Rising to international recognition after surviving a white supremacist & transphobic attack, CeCe is now a nationally-recognized storyteller to who articulates the personal and political implications of being both black and trans. Her work fosters important conversations around mass incarceration, sexuality and violence. She is one of the founders of the Black Excellence Collective and the Black Excellence Tour, created with best friend Joshua Allen, and she is the focus of the recently released feature length documentary about her life and story, Free Cece!
Alicia Garza is an African-American activist and editorial writer who has organized around the issues of health, student services and rights, rights for domestic workers, ending police brutality, anti-racism, and violence against trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Time, Mic, The Guardian, Elle.com, Essence, Democracy Now!, and The New York Times. In addition, she was named on The Root's 2016 list of 100 African American achievers and influencers, given a 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Award, the 2016 Marie Claire New Guard Award, and was featured as a Community Change Agent at the 2016 BET's Black Girls Rock Awards. She currently directs Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Garza also co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement.
Phill Wilson, founder and President of the Black AIDS Institute, was an early voice on HIV in the Black community. Wilson’s activism began when he and his partner were diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s. He became the AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles and served as Director of Policy and Planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles. He is the founder or co-founder of numerous organizations, including the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and the National Task Force on HIV Prevention. He has also been involved in national and international research efforts, coordinating the International Community Treatment and Science Workshop at the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th International AIDS Conferences. Wilson has written on HIV/AIDS for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, LA Weekly, Essence, Ebony, POZ, Vibe, and Jet. In 2010, Wilson became appointed to President Obama's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Wilson is the recipient of numerous awards, including BET’s Black History Makers in the Making, a Discovery Health Channel Medical Honors award, the Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World award, and induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.
Wade Davis II
Former NFL player Wade Davis is a thought leader, writer, public speaker, and educator on gender, race, and sexual orientation equality. Davis is dedicated to using his platforms and social currency to highlight issues that directly impact women and girls. In partnership with the Ms. Foundation and Ebony Magazine, Davis launched the #BlackMenAndFeminism campaign, focusing on conversations with Black men around their perceptions and understanding of feminism. Recently, Davis worked with Huffington Post Women to film content centered on men as feminists.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, often referred to as Miss Major, is a trans woman activist and community leader for transgender rights. Her work focuses greatly on the issues facing trans women of color. She was a leader in the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and became politicized at Attica while she was incarcerated. She is a father, mother, grandmother, and grandfather to her own children, and is considered family by many in the transgender community. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which assists transgender people who are disproportionately incarcerated and discriminated against by the justice system. In 2014, the documentary entitled Major! chronicled Griffin-Gracy's role as an activist and mentor. She describes the film as both a tool to present to young trans women their history and a reminder that young women still need help and support.
Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992) was a writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, warrior, and civil rights activist. Her writing, including poetry, essays, books, and social commentary that express anger and outrage at civil and social discrimination. She passionately wrote and spoke of the need to speak up against and bear witness to injustice: “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” In titling her New York State’s Poet Laureate, then-Governor Mario Cuomo said of Lorde, “Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice…She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity. Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere.”
Johnny Mathis is a world-renowned popular music icon. He has made over 100 albums, and more than 60 of his albums have been certified gold and/or platinum. In 1982 he was quoted in an Us Magazine article, saying, "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to." After receiving death threats and harassments, Mathis did not talk about his sexual orientation until 2006. He was later quoted as having said, “I come from San Francisco. It's not unusual to be gay in San Francisco. I've had some girlfriends, some boyfriends, just like most people.”
John Uzoma Ekwugha Amaechi was the first former NBA player to come out as gay and is now considered one of the world's most high-profile gay athletes. Born in Boston, he was then raised in England and moved back to the United States to play basketball in high school. While in college at Penn State he became a motivational speaker and youth mentor. He currently works as an educator and broadcaster throughout Europe and the United States. Among his many honors, Amaechi was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science by Manchester Metropolitan University in 2007 in recognition of his achievements, including the establishment of the ABC Foundation to encourage children to become involved in sports and their community. Amaechi was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his volunteer and community service.
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