Black LGBTQIA+ Americans have long made history with innumerable contributions to politics, art, medicine and a host of other fields. And even though we celebrate both Juneteenth (June 19)—the abolition of slavery in the United States—and Pride Month—a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community—annually in June, it’s important to remember that Black LGBTQIA+ Americans still struggle for respect, inclusion and equality to this day.
“Pride month, to be clear, is an extension of Black History Month,” says David J. Johns, Director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “Racism combined with the forces of stigma, phobia, discrimination and bias associated with gender and sexuality have too often erased the contributions of members of our community.”
Here is a list of Black LGBTQIA+ trailblazers and advocates who work(ed) to make the world more inclusive for everyone.
Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian and civil rights activist. She was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Her work explored civil rights, the complexity of the Black experience and the oppression that she witnessed in her communities. Lorde advocated for the rights of both queer Black women and others who weren’t part of the mainstream feminist movement.
More of Audre Lorde’s Work:
- The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde
- Sister Outsider
- A Burst of Light: And Other Essays
- The Edge of Eachother’s Battles documentary (Kanopy)
James Baldwin was an American writer and activist and a true son of the Harlem Renaissance. As a writer, he garnered acclaim across various mediums, including essays, novels, plays and poems. Baldwin’s literary themes of race and oppression earned him a place among civil rights leaders. He stood at Dr. King’s side during his famous I Have a Dream speech in Washington. Baldwin is perhaps best known for his 1955 collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, and his groundbreaking 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room, which depicts themes of homosexuality and bisexuality. Baldwin spent the majority of his literary and activist career educating others about Black and queer identity.
More of James Baldwin’s Work:
- Notes of a Native Son
- Giovanni’s Room
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- I Am Not Your Negro documentary (Kanopy)
- James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket documentary (Kanopy)
Marsha P. Johnson
A pillar of New York City’s LGBTQIA+ community, Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken transgender woman and queer rights activist who fought discrimination while struggling with homelessness. She is reported to be one of the central figures of the historic Stonewall uprising of 1969. Along with fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera, Johnson helped form Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a radical political organization that provided housing and other forms of support to homeless queer youth in Manhattan—it is considered the first LGBTQIA+ youth shelter in North America.
More about Marsha P. Johnson:
- Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! by Joy Michael Ellison
- The Gay Agenda: A Modern Queer History & Handbook by Ashley Molesso
- A Queer History of the United States for Young People by Michael Bronski
- Happy Birthday, Marsha short film (Kanopy)
Bayard Rustin was a pioneer in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence and gay rights. Rustin was best known for being a key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He organized the 1963 March on Washington and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2013 for his activism. Despite pressure to limit his association with the civil rights movement because of his sexuality, Rustin remained a key player and lived openly as a gay man at a time when homosexuality was punishable by law.
More about Bayard Rustin:
- Bayard Rustin by J. P. Miller
- Troublemaker for Justice: The story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman
- Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People who Made History by Sarah Prager
- Brother Outsider: The Life of Freedom Fighter Bayard Rustin documentary (Kanopy)
As an author, lesbian and a mother of Black feminism, Barbara Smith began her journey in social activism as a participant in the 1960s protests and marches for civil rights. Since the early 1970s, she has been active as a scholar, activist, critic, lecturer, author and publisher of Black feminist thought. She uses her writing to deconstruct homophobia within the Black community and anti-Blackness in the feminist movement. Smith founded the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist organization that addressed the needs of minority women excluded from other women’s rights movements during the 70s and 80s. She has also taught at numerous colleges and universities for 25 years.
More about Barbara Smith:
- Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
- Contemporary Black Biography Vol. 28 by Ashyia N. Henderson (Gale eBook)
- After Stonewall documentary (Kanopy)
Andrea Jenkins made history in November 2017 by becoming the first openly transgender Black woman elected to public office in the U.S. Jenkins, a Democrat, was one of two openly trans people to win a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in 2017. She is also a published poet and an oral historian at the University of Minnesota. Jenkins made history again in January 2022, when she was elected as the first transgender official in the U.S. to lead a city council. She strives to bring political representation to the trans community.
More about Andrea Jenkins:
- Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic by Lilly Workneh
- Why I Run: 35 Progressive Candidates Who are Changing Politics by Kate Childs Graham
- Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose, and Pride by Andrea Jenkins, John Medeiros & Lisa Marie Brimmer
More Juneteenth and Pride Resources
- Browse our Juneteenth and Pride displays in our building.
- Visit our recommendations page for reading recommendations on both subjects.
- Watch Kanopy’s Juneteenth and Pride video collections from home.
- Check out hoopla’s Juneteenth collection and Pride audiobook, eBook, comic and multi-format materials.