February 1, 2024
LGBTQ+ Black Change-Makers You Should Know
This Black History Month, we celebrate Black LGBTQ+ artists, musicians, athletes, and poets who have made or are making an important impact in their field.
Three Black LGBTQ+ Artists You Should Know
sarah huny young (she/they) is an award winning queer visual artist whose portraits celebrate Black women and the LGBTQ+ community. Their portraits often portray how Black queer people experiencing intimacy, self-love, and tenderness is an act of defiance. huny also dedicated to capturing the beauty of platonic and romantic love between Black women and femmes and hopes others will too. Follow them on Instagram and check out their photography.
Kehinde Wiley (he/him) is a painter recognized for his portraits of Black and Brown people in traditional settings of Old Master paintings. Kehinde’s portraits celebrate Black and brown people while challenging narratives in art history regarding representation of race and power. In 2018, Kehinde was selected to paint former President Barack Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. This portrait was the first painted by a Black gay artist in the collection. Follow Kehinde on Instagram and check out his portraits.
Zanele Muholi (they/them) is a South African visual activist and photographer. Each of Zanele’s works, primarily of the South African Black LGBTQI community, has a political agenda to challenge culturally dominant views of gender, race, and sexuality. They have received many awards, including the International Centre of Photography Infinity Award, and their work has been exhibited worldwide. Follow Zanele on Facebook and Instagram.
Three Black LGBTQ+ Musicians You Should Know
UMI (she/they) is a queer Black and Japanese R&B and neo-soul musician and songwriter. UMI’s music reflects her mixed heritage, and their meditations on self-love and acceptance in their songs has resonated with queer audiences. Check out UMI’s music and follow her on Instagram.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (she/her) unapologetically pushed boundaries as a queer, gender nonconforming Blues icon between the 1950’s through 1980’s. She was the original singer of “Hound Dog,” later made famous by Elvis Presley, and the writer of “Ball and Chain,” later covered by Janis Joplin. Big Mama was influential in shaping American music, including blues, rock and roll, folk, and R&B. Read about Big Mama’s impact.
Jackie Shane (she/her) was a transgender R&B and soul singer. Jackie knew she was transgender from a young age and challenged laws that outlawed her identity as she grew up unapologetically in the Jim Crow South. Jackie eventually moved to Canada where she rose to fame in the Toronto nightclub scene in the 1960’s. In 2018, a year before her passing, Jackie’s anthology album, “Any Other Way,” was nominated for a Grammy. Learn more about Jackie.
Three Black LGBTQ+ Athletes You Should Know
Glenn Burke (he/him) was the first openly gay Major League Baseball player. Glenn played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, played in the 1977 World Series, and is credited for creating the “high five.” He publicly came out in 1982, three years after his retirement. Glenn died in 1995 from AIDS. Check out Glenn discuss his sexuality and the MLB.
Caster Semenya (she/her) is a South African three-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist 800m runner. In 2023, she won a discrimination case challenging the World Athletics requirement that people with differences in sex development (DSD) take testosterone-suppressing medication to be eligible to compete. Caster’s fight will have lasting impacts on the rights of athletes with DSD and LGBTQI+ athletes. Caster and her wife Violet Raseboya have two children together. Check out Caster’s memoir and follow her on Instagram.
Brittney Griner (she/her) is a Women’s National Basketball Association star and two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national basketball team. She has contributed greatly to LGBTQ+ through philanthropy and advocacy. In February 2022, Brittney was arrested and wrongfully jailed in Russia for alleged possession of cannabis oil. The LGBTQ+ fraternity, together with the WNBA, fought for her freedom until she was returned home to her loved ones in December 2022. Learn more about Brittney and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Three Black LGBTQ+ Poets You Should Know
Juliana Huxtable (she/her) is a writer and poet who uses diverse ways of communication to address issues of gender, race, and queerness. She uses her own body and lived experiences to challenge social norms. Her series Seven Archetype (2012-13) centers around her experiences as an intersex transgender person and the cultural forces that form conceptions of gender and sexuality. Watch Juliana’s Artist Talk and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter/X.
Danez Smith (they/them) is an award-winning poet and writer whose work focuses on issues around queer identity and race. In their book “Don’t Call Us Dead,” Danez centers their queerness, Blackness, and HIV status. They were the first nonbinary poet to be nominated for the National Book Award. Follow Danez on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter/X.
Assotto Saint (he/him) was a Haitian-born poet, writer, publisher, and AIDS activist. He contributed greatly to Black queer visibility in the cultural arts movement in the 1980s and early 90s. Assotto served as a role model to many people in Black gay communities who did not have a space to freely express themselves. He was recognized by the New York Foundation for Arts and awarded the James Baldwin Award from the Black Gay Leadership Forum.