Celebrating Queer Black History - Powerful Voices

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February is a time to celebrate Black History, a time to amplify the passionate voices and rich history that Black people and culture have brought to society and the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Over the next week, we invite you to check in, as we honor the people, events, and movements that have shaped and continue to shape Queer Black culture.

We kick off our Black History Month celebration, on what would have been Audre Lorde's 90th birthday, with a look at five powerful voices that led the way with their writing and activism. Let's get started.

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Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)

Audre Lorde, a self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," was a trailblazing figure in queer black history. Her significance lies in her multifaceted contributions as a writer, feminist, and activist. Lorde's work was characterized by its emphasis on matters of social and racial justice, as well as its authentic portrayal of queer sexuality and experience.

She fearlessly confronted and addressed injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia through her poetry and prose. Lorde's insistence on the celebration of differences and the interconnectedness of various forms of oppression laid the groundwork for what is now known as intersectional feminism. Her writings called attention to the multifaceted nature of identity and the ways in which people from different walks of life experience the world.

Lorde's unapologetic embrace of her intersecting identities as a black lesbian woman, coupled with her advocacy for the marginalized, continues to inspire and empower individuals within the LGBTQIA+ and black communities. Her work remains a cornerstone in the ongoing fight for equality, representation, and social justice.





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Richard Bruce Nugent (1906 – 1987)

Richard Bruce Nugent, a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, played a significant role in queer Black history. He was a writer, painter, and illustrator who openly embraced his homosexuality, making him one of the few African-American artists willing to express his same-sex desires in his work and personal life. Nugent's contribution to the landmark publication FIRE!!, particularly his piece "Smoke, Lilies and Jade," was unprecedented in its celebration of same-sex desire, and he was recognized as the first African American to write from a self-declared homosexual perspective.

Despite facing challenges due to his open sexuality, Nugent's work has resurfaced in anthologies, shedding light on the lifestyle of black gay artists during the Harlem Renaissance and bridging the gap between that era and the black gay movement of the 1980s.

His unapologetic embrace of his gay identity and his unique artistic expression have made him an inspiration to many and have earned him a significant place in both African American and queer history.

Nugent's openness about his sexuality and his contributions to literature and art have had a lasting impact, cementing his legacy as a queer rebel of the Harlem Renaissance





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James Baldwin (1924 – 1987)

Though Baldwin’s classic work, Giovanni’s Room, is still regarded as foundational in 2SLGBTQ+ literature, but he left behind a prolific legacy of writing, education, activism and preaching that still impacts queer activism to this day.

In addition to his literary contributions, Baldwin was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement and formed close friendships with prominent figures such as Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, and Lorraine Hansberry. The deaths of many of these friends influenced his writing about race relations in America.

Baldwin's impact extended beyond his written work. He participated in a well-publicized debate with William F. Buckley in 1965 on whether the American dream had been achieved at the expense of African Americans. He also wrote poetry and screenplays, and his unfinished manuscript "Remember This House" was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2016 film "I Am Not Your Negro" by Raoul Peck

Baldwin's legacy continues to be celebrated for his fearless exploration of societal issues and his unyielding commitment to challenging America to uphold the values it promised on equality and justice. His influence as an agent of change in American society is evident in the ongoing relevance of his work and ideas.




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Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965)

Lorraine Hansberry (1930–1965) is an icon of queer Black history due to her groundbreaking contributions as a playwright, writer, and activist, as well as her personal journey in navigating her sexuality. Despite being married to a man, Hansberry privately identified as a lesbian, a significant aspect of her identity during a time when homosexuality was illegal and stigmatized. She joined the pioneering lesbian organization, The Daughters of Bilitis, and contributed two letters to their publication, The Ladder, under the pseudonym Emily Jones. In these letters, she candidly discussed the intersectionality of homophobia, misogyny, and racism, offering a unique perspective on the challenges faced by queer Black women.

Hansberry's magnum opus, "A Raisin in the Sun," debuted on Broadway in 1959, making her the first Black woman playwright to reach Broadway. Her plays told stories of Black life that were often hidden in plain sight, and her life continues to inspire LGBTQ+ writers across the theater world.

Despite her untimely death at the age of 34, Hansberry's legacy as a trailblazing figure in both Black and queer history endures, as her work and personal journey have continued to inspire countless marginalized artists who are women, Black, and queer.





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Barbara Smith – (1946 -)

Barbara Smith, an American lesbian feminist, socialist, and Black feminist author, has played a pivotal role in Black feminism and LGBTQIA+ activism. Her significance in queer Black history is profound for several reasons. Smith was a trailblazing figure in the LGBTQIA+ movement, advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people of color and challenging the mainstream queer rights movement's neglect of the concerns of this community.

Smith's contributions to Black feminism and her co-founding of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist group, were instrumental in shaping intersectional feminist thought and activism. The Combahee River Collective's statement, which she helped author, provided a powerful articulation of lesbian-inclusive Black feminist politics.

As a scholar, activist, critic, and author, Smith's work has been influential in amplifying the voices of Black women and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Her founding of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first national publishing company run by and for women of color, was a groundbreaking effort that provided a platform for marginalized voices.

Smith's unyielding commitment to social justice and her advocacy for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people of color have left an indelible mark on queer Black history. Her work continues to inspire and guide contemporary movements for equality and liberation.






We're just getting started. Be sure to come back tomorrow as we continue to celebrate the richness of queer Black history and culture.