February is Black History Month and OUTMemphis would like to recognize Black LGBTQ+ figures whose work set the modern LGBTQ+ movement into motion. OUTMemphis knows that these historic figures have granted our community the protections and rights that we have today. Every week in February, we will be recognizing these Black LGBTQ+ figures from the past and present and their historic contributions. These individuals continue to empower, connect, educate, and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. OUTMemphis strives to follow in their legacies by providing programs and services that continue to impact the Mid-South LGBTQ+ Community.
Check back in every week as we add more influential Black LGBTQ+ individual highlights.
James Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. Baldwin’s writings on race, social issues, and being black and gay in America served as a historic example of intersectional representation for his time.
James Baldwin Facts
- His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953 was a loosely autobiographical story based on his own father and religious identity
- His novel Giovanni’s Room depicted the then-taboo subject of homosexuality with a deft complexity. He did this as well in his 1978 novel Just Above My Head.
- He worked on a book called If Beale Street Could Talk after the assassination of Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.
Marsha P. Johnson Facts
- When Marsha P. Johnson was asked what her initial “P” stood for, she retorted “Pay it no mind.”
- S.T.A.R. was one of the first transgender rights organizations in the country.
- In August 2020, Marsha’s hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey announced they will erect a monument in her honor.
Bayard Rustin was an American leader in the civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights movements. Rustin was a key advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was affectionately referred to as “Mr. March-on-Washington” by A. Philip Randolph. He organized and led a number of protests in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Bayard Rustin Fact
- Rustin was the chief architect of the March on Washington (August 1963), a massive demonstration to rally support for civil rights legislation that was pending in Congress.
- In 1964, he directed a one-day student boycott of New York City’s public schools in protest against racial imbalances in that system.
- Rustin subsequently served as president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil rights organization in New York City, from 1966 to 1979.
Angela Davis is a political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. Her work has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. She is also a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex.
Angela Davis Facts
- Davis formed an interracial study group and volunteered for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while she was still in high school.
- While in prison, Davis wrote her first book, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, entirely by hand.
- Davis’s mother was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organization because of its civil rights activities.
Alvin Ailey was a choreographer and founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) in 1958. AAADT served as a haven for nurturing black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance. His work fused theatre, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with black vernacular which helped spread global awareness of black life in America.
Alvin Ailey Facts
- As a teen, Alvin Ailey studied with renowned dancer, choreographer, and teacher Lester Horton.
- In 1954, Ailey made his Broadway debut in Truman Capote’s musical House of Flowers.
- After Ailey’s death, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Stormé DeLarverie was a lifelong gay rights activist and drag king performer who began performing in 1946 at the Jewel Box Revue. She was a well-known icon and later played a pivotal role in the Stonewall uprising.
Stormé DeLarverie Facts
- Stormé DeLarverie served the lesbian community for decades as a volunteer street patrol worker.
- Stormé is fondly remembered as a “gay superhero.”
- In June 2019, DeLarvarie was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.
Alphonso David is an attorney, and LGBTQ+ civil rights, leader. In August 2019, he became the president of the Human Rights Campaign.
He is the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to serve as president of the organization in June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named him among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people.”
Alphonso David Facts
- David served as a staff attorney at the Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 2004-2007. He worked on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-centered cases around the country involving issues like HIV, employment, and housing accommodations.
- David was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve as Counsel to the Governor.
- He cites James Baldwin as his LGBT+ hero for “daring to dream big and beyond the limitations others placed on him.”
Andrea Jenkins is an American policy aide, politician, writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist.
Jenkins is the first black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States. She has been serving on the Minneapolis City Council since January 2018. In addition to her hard work serving the people of her ward; Andrea Jenkins also co-founded the PAC Trans United Fund which works to assist trans candidates and organizers at different political levels. Jenkins is truly paving the way for a future with more trans folks in politics.
Andrea Jenkins Facts
- Jenkins began work at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies where she curates the Transgender Oral History Project (TOHP.)
- Jenkins earned a fellowship dedicated to transgender issues and helped to establish the Transgender Issues Work Group in 2014.
- In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named her among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people”.
Phil Wilson is a prominent African-American HIV/AIDS activist American activist who founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999. Black AIDS Institute is the only national HIV think tank focused exclusively on Black people. Its mission is to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV.
If you or someone you know would like to get tested for HIV, we offer free testing at the Center (892 S Cooper Street) every Monday and Thursday from 6 pm-9 pm, no appointment needed.
OUTMemphis is proud to continue to fight HIV in our community by providing free testing and knowledge about how to move forward.
Phil Wilson Facts
- He began his activism in 1983 when he read the poem “Where will you be when they come?” at a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims, which he also helped organize.
- Wilson was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1999.
- In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named him among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people”
Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, womanist, libertarian, and civil rights activist who was a significant force in the shaping of feminist thought and lesbian culture. Her talents were dedicated to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia. Her works dealt with issues related to the intersectionality between sexual orientation against oppression. Her poetry also focused on illness, disability, and the exploration of Black female identity.
Audre Lorde Facts
- Her first volume of poems, The First Cities, was published in 1968.
- Lorde was diagnosed with cancer and chronicled her struggles in her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals, which won the Gay Caucus Book of the Year award for 1981
- In the 1980s, Lorde and writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Emil Wilbekin is a journalist, media executive, stylist, content creator, culture critic, and human-rights activist. He is most known for his work as the former editor-in-chief of Vibe Magazine and GIANT Magazine as well as the editor-at-large at Essence Magazine and managing editor of Essence.com, and chief content officer of Afropunk. He is the founder of Native Son which is an organization dedicated to empowering and lifting up Black gay men through positive representation and business opportunities.
Emil Wilbekin Facts
- Wilbekin spent his first two years out of grad school as a freelance journalist writing for New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Metropolitan Home, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.
- Wilbekin became a founding editor of Vibe magazine. He went on to serve as Vibe’s associate editor and style editor, and then as fashion director; in 1999, he was named editor-in-chief.
- He served as Afropunk’s chief content officer from 2018 until 2020 where he dedicated turning the organization into a safe place for Black queer people.
Laverne Cox is an actress who has been revolutionary for breaking down barriers for trans women in entertainment. Most known for role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, Cox is the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine, to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy, to have a waxwork in Madame Tussauds, as well as the first openly transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy as an Executive Producer. Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School in New York City for her progressive work in the fight for gender equality in 2016.
She has used her notoriety to consistently advocate for and raise awareness about the trans community, their experiences, and the issues they face and has made a significant impact in the pursuit of greater visibility for the trans community.
Laverne Cox Facts
- She helped bring the trans rights movement to the forefront thanks to her iconic 2014 Time magazine cover, titled “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
- She is the first openly Trans woman to be nominated for a primetime Emmy.
- She is the first Trans Woman to win Daytime Emmy as an Executive Producer