10 Black LGBTQ Figures Who Left Their Mark On History


There have been plenty of Black Americans not only fighting for their community but also for the rights of LGBTQ people, as well. Their struggles, contributions and activism have either paved the way toward equality and justice or helped build foundations of future generations to work from. Some have made waves in politics and tackled the legal system. Others have opened minds through music, art and critical discussion. Some of these people have gone a step further and touched on intersectional issues of LGBTQ people of color. We present ten influential Black LGBTQ people with an enduring legacy.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin is a visionary who has opened America's mind through his literary work and social activism. One of his notable works, Notes of a Native Son, is a collection of essays looking at race and oppression in America and Europe. His other literary titles touches on the intersectionality of race, class and sexuality. Baldwin was also a passionate educator on black and queer identity.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a major player during the Civil Rights Movement. Not only was he an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also organized the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for this in 2013. The activist was arrested in 1953 for having sex with two men in Pasadena, California, but Gov. Gavin Newsom pardoned Rustin February this year, highlighting the poor treatment of queer people during Rustin's time.

Audre Lorde

A vocal feminist and writer, Audre Lorde was a black lesbian and made important contributions to critical discussions of race, queerness and feminism. Lorde also shined a spotlight on the oppression she witnessed in the communities around her. She once said that she writes for women who don't have a voice "because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves."

Marsha P. Johnson

The loud and proud activist stood strong for transgender rights and many other communities. Marsha P. Johnson was a central figure in the Stonewall riots of 1969, which was a series of demonstrations by the gay community. Johnson was involved in a flamboyant theatrical troupe called Hot Peaches from the 1970s through the 90s. Not only did she serve homeless queer youth and sex workers, but she also advocated for people with AIDS.

Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins is the first openly transgender Black woman elected to public office in the U.S. by winning a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in November 2017. Not only is Jenkins a published poet, but she actively works as a curator at the Transgender Oral History project at the University of Minnesota's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

Alphonso David

Alphonso David made history in 2019 by becoming the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States. Before taking up the mantle at HRC, David worked as an attorney and handled LGBTQ cases across the country. He is also the first openly gay counsel to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Willi Ninja

If voguing is a prominent aspect of some queer communities, you thank Willi Ninja for making it an art form. Voguing emerged in the 1980s from the Harlem ballroom scene, involving angular poses and exaggerate movements for expression. "The Grandfather of Vogue" appeared in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, a film that shined a spotlight on the "house" culture of New York City.

Phil Wilson

Phil Wilson's work is focused on combatting HIV/AIDS in the Black community. Wilson is diagnosed with HIV, and his partner passed away from an HIV-related illness. As a result, he founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999. Since then, Wilson has gone on to be involved in many awareness campaigns for HIV testing, prevention and treatment. He also served on President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and even advocated for funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the Black community during the crisis.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a longtime activist for trans and intersex people since the Stonewall riots. She struggled with homelessness and incarceration, which emboldened her to advocate for others. Miss Major spoke on the incarceration of transpeople, violence against them and the treatment of sex workers. This culminated in 2005 when she became the executive director of the Trans Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) in San Francisco. NBC News said the 79-year-old woman is living in Little Rock, Arkansas but remains a vocal advocate.

Alvin Ailey

Acclaimed choreographer and gay dancer Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a globally-recognized dance company, in 1958. His theater highlighted the black experience through dance and provided an expressive platform for underrepresented communities. Ailey passed away from AIDS in 1989 but was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2014 for his lifetime work.

Photo: Getty Images


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