There is no denying the achievements and contributions of Black Americans have been minimized, if not erased entirely from our nation’s history. Even more forgotten are the remarkable stories of LGBT Black Americans who bore the “stigma” of two marginalized communities. As such, they were often “outcasts” in both and yet their courage, intellect, and talents allowed them to succeed in times of immense discrimination, segregation, and homophobia.
We’d like to honor just a few of the men and women of our Community and the incredible contributions they made.
Black History, LGBT History, it is all our American History.
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey – Singer/songwriter (1882 -1939) Known as the “Mother of the Blues”. She was one of the first generation of blues singers to record with over 100 recordings in her career and a contract with Paramount Records. Her bisexuality/lesbianism was known to those around her and she even referred to it in her 1927 recording, “Prove it on Me. She is the subject of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which has been made into a film starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman due out later this year.
Moms Mabley – Comedian (1894 – 1975) Born Loretta Mary Aiken, Moms came out as a lesbian at the age of 27. At a time when there were few comedians, let alone black comedians, she was recording comedy routines in the 1920s and 30s. In the 50’s and 60s Moms’ fearless comedy tackled issues of racism, social justice and sexuality. Her popularity crossed racial divides and in 1962 she played Carnegie Hall and became a regular on the most popular TV variety shows.
Bayard Rustin – Activist (1912 – 1987) Called the “lost prophet” of the Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin was often pushed to the back or left in the shadows because of his open homosexuality. In 1956 he mentored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fully embrace the ideas, principles, and practices of nonviolent protest; and was one of the chief organizers of the historic “March on Washington” in 1963. His tireless efforts, both in America and abroad, for civil rights, economic opportunity, and LGBT equality, earned Rustin numerous awards and distinctions, including a posthumous Medal of Freedom in 2013 from President Obama who stated, “As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”
James Baldwin – Writer/Activist (1924 – 1987). Baldwin’s contributions to the literary world and social conscience are not to be underestimated. An openly gay man, he wrote his truth fearlessly about subjects he knew best whether the black experience in America, civil rights, or the love between men. In 1956, Baldwin published his novel, Giovanni’s Room, the story of an American living in Paris and groundbreaking for its “taboo” depiction of homosexuality, which he again explored in 1978’s Just Above My Head. Based on his unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, the Academy Award nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro tells the story of race relations in America.
Marsha P. Johnson – Activist/Stonewall Veteran (1945 – 1992) Her fierce, outspoken, and vibrant personality that made Marsha P. Johnson a beloved and well-known fixture of the Greenwich Village street scene for over three decades. Even pop art icon, Andy Warhol took notice of Marsha using her as a subject/model for his work. An instrumental part of the Stonewall Riots in June, 1969, Marsha continued to fight for transgender rights throughout her life. She co-founded STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. This transgender advocacy group ran a homeless shelter for transgender teens and drag queens and fed them while fighting for the inclusion of Trans people under the larger umbrella of gay rights. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. Her death was ruled a suicide. Despite friends and acquaintances witnessing her having been harassed earlier that day and insisting she was not suicidal; the case was never reopened and the cause of death remains unchanged.