Throughout history people have been persecuted for everything from gender and race to religion and sexuality. While there have been many strides made across the board, the latter has proven to be perhaps the last group to get a fair shake at equality—that’s especially true for double minorities who happen to be Black and gay. Thankfully, there have been brave individuals who have challenged society’s norms, ideals and deeply rooted fears to redefine what it means to be an LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender] person of color in a historically oppressive world. As BlackEnterprise.com documents the struggles and triumphs of the Black LGBT community, we compiled a list of 10 of the most significant openly gay LGBT people of color. —Souleo
JAMES BALDWIN: Although it wasn’t until later in his career that Baldwin would openly identify as a gay male, he made it a point to bring sexuality to the forefront of literature in classics such as Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room. With the release of the latter 1956 novel, the Harlem native broadened the public discourse of same-sex relationships by capturing the sexual identity issues between two men. Baldwin’s interests in race, class and sexuality were not confined to the page. After years of living in Paris and Istanbul, he returned to the United States and aligned himself with the missions of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He also participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Up until his death in 1987, Baldwin continued to reflect on social issues in his later publications and role as a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College.
ANGELA DAVIS: In 1969, Davis’ political affiliation as a member of the Communist Party USA resulted in her being fired from her post as an acting assistant professor at the University of California. After taking the issue to court, she eventually earned her position back. However, the victory was short-lived when soon thereafter she faced several criminal charges—including murder—which stemmed from a courtroom escape attempt by three prison inmates that she politically supported. Davis spent 18 months in prison awaiting trial and was eventually acquitted of all charges in 1972. Her experience with the criminal justice system would prove inspirational as she would go on to push for reform of the United States prison system. She also ran for Vice President of the United States in 1980 and 1984 as a Communist Party USA candidate. After openly identifying as a lesbian on the cover of a 1999 Out magazine issue, Davis remains a highly respected educator, activist and author.
BAYARD RUSTIN: Civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin is best known for his masterful work as the leading organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The historic event remains one of the largest nonviolent protests ever in the U.S. and is largely credited with helping to pass both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Rustin was also credited with instilling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Gandhian principles of nonviolent protest techniques. Despite such major contributions to the advancement of civil rights, Rustin himself was constantly a target of workplace discrimination, arrests and violence as an openly gay man in an era when homophobia was extremely rampant. During the latter half of his over 50 years of public service work, Rustin became increasingly vocal of gay and universal human rights to uplift the oppressed people around the world.
AUDRE LORDE: In 1978, Lorde released her most critically acclaimed collection of poetry, The Black Unicorn, which contained deeply personal and honest reflections on womanhood, race, lesbianism and feminism. Lorde, self-identified as a Black feminist lesbian poet but she was also a noted essayist. Her views on race, gender and sexuality in subsequent works are considered to challenge conventional norms in an effort to expand the representation of oppressed members of society. During her lengthy career, Lorde received numerous accolades, including an American Book Award for A Burst of Life in 1989. Lorde battled cancer for more than a decade before passing in 1992. Prior to her death she changed her name to, Gamba Adisa, which is said to mean “she who makes her meaning clear.”
ALVIN AILEY: Ailey is credited with helping to popularize modern dance throughout the world for his role as a dancer, choreographer. In 1958, Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where he would go on to create 79 ballets. Perhaps, his most famous dance is Revelations, which is based upon his experience coming of age in the rural South and is inspired by the blues, spirituals and gospel. A year before his passing in 1989 from AIDS, Ailey received the Kennedy Center Honors for his contributions to the world of dance. Today, his legacy continues on as his company produces past works as well as specially commissioned ones. Presently the company boasts more than 200 works by over 80 choreographers as part of their repertoire.
MABEL HAMPTON: Today, Hampton is noted as an activist and philanthropist but she actually got her start as a dancer and housekeeper. During the height of the Harlem Renaissance, she preformed alongside such popular talents as Jackie “Moms” Mabley, which provided her with the opportunity to network with noteworthy political, artistic and cultural gay/lesbian figures of the day. During most of her adult years she collected memorabilia and records that document the historical shifts in arts, culture, race and sexuality. Hampton would eventually become an early supporter of the Lesbian Herstory Archives by donating items from her collection to the preservation of lesbian history. In addition, she utilized her modest income to contribute to numerous gay and lesbian rights organizations. She also marched in the first National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in 1979 and was a spokesperson on gay/lesbian issues through various public appearances.
BILL T. JONES: In 1982, Jones, formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with his late partner, Zane. From there this multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer has received some of the most treasured distinctions, including a 1994 MacArthur “Genius” Award and 2010 Kennedy Center Honors. Jones is best known for his successful forays into Broadway Theater. In 2010 he received a Tony Award for Best Choreography in the critically acclaimed musical, FELA!, which he also co-conceived, co-wrote and directed. In addition to creating more than 140 works for his own company, Jones has been specially commissioned to create works for some of the most prestigious modern and ballet companies in the world. However, it’s his 2000 award as “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition that best sums up his legacy.
STACEYANN CHIN: Chin is a self-described Jamaican National and “out poet and political activist,” who has been promoting social justice since 1998, when she began on the poetry circuit—winning several major competitions, including the 1998 Lambda Poetry Slam; the 1999 Chicago People of Color Slam; and winner of the 1998 and 2000 Slam This! In November 2002 she achieved national recognition as a co-writer and performer in the Tony Award-winning, Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Subsequently her poetry on identity, race and sexuality has been published in high profile newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. In 2007 Chin made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she shared her struggles of growing up as a lesbian in Jamaica. In 2009 Chin released, The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir and participated in the National Equality March in Washington D.C.
KEITH BOYKIN: Boykin’s career spans several platforms, including politics, media and academia. His most visible role in the political arena was serving as a special assistant to former President Bill Clinton. In 1997 Boykin joined Coretta Scott King and Rev. Jesse Jackson in being appointed by the former President to the U.S. presidential trade delegation to Zimbabwe. By 2003 Boykin founded the National Black Justice Coalition after recognizing a need for a national force that was focused on advancing the rights and social justice for same-gender relationships and those who identify as transgender. Boykin remains a presence in the media as the editor of The Daily Voice, an online news site, a regular television personality (Centric’s My Two Cents) and New York Times best-selling author. Boykin recently announced a deal with Magnus Books to produce a book addressing issues surrounding sexual identity for men of color.