B JE 1

Today we continue our celebration of Black History with a look at the ways queer Black culture have impacted how the 2SLGBTQ+ community expresses its joy.

We'll be learning about Gladys Bentley and Ma Rainey, two Depression era musicians who couldn’t deny their identities, the Ballrooms of Harlem which still inspire artists like Beyonce to this day, the power of disco and its intrinsic connection with queer Black history, the Vogue era with a closer look at Willi Ninja, the ‘the grandfather of vogueing”, and we'll finish off with a look back at how RuPaul’s dynasty of drag has normalized drag culture.

Let's get started.

B JE 2

Gladys Bentley and Ma Rainey: Joy in the Depression Era

Gladys Bentley and Ma Rainey are iconic figures in Black queer history due to their groundbreaking contributions to music and their unapologetic defiance of gender and sexual norms. Gladys Bentley, a blues singer, and pianist, rose to fame in Prohibition-era New York, where she challenged societal expectations by performing in men's clothing, openly flirting with women in the audience, and singing about her female lovers. Her bold and unapologetic expression of her queer identity made her an icon of early 20th-century LGBTQ+ history.

Similarly, Ma Rainey, known as the "Mother of the Blues," was a pioneering African American blues singer who, along with other blueswomen of the era, was involved in same-sex relationships. While these artists did not publicly comment on their lesbian or bisexual identities, their openness within the entertainment world and the content of some of their recordings, such as Ma Rainey's "Prove It On Me Blues," alluded to their non-conforming sexualities. Their influence and cultural contributions remain significant a century later.

Both Bentley and Rainey's unapologetic expressions of their queer identities and their contributions to music during a time of strict social norms make them enduring symbols of resilience and authenticity in Black queer history. Their legacies continue to inspire and resonate, underscoring the vital role of Black LGBTQ+ individuals in shaping cultural movements and challenging societal expectations.





B JE 3

The Ballrooms of Harlem

The historic “Harlem Homosexual Balls” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are profoundly important in the history of Black queer culture. These events, which evolved during the Harlem Renaissance, provided a vital space for queer Black and Latinx individuals to express their true identities and find community in an otherwise hostile society. Despite the illegality of dressing in clothes that did not align with one's assigned gender, the balls allowed participants to openly embrace their gender expression and sexual orientation, fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity.

The Harlem Balls became a central hub for LGBTQ+ culture, offering a platform for performers to showcase their talents and challenge mainstream notions of gender and sexuality. The inclusive nature of these events welcomed drag performers, gay, trans, and lesbian people of color, providing a supportive environment for those who had been marginalized and shunned by society.

These balls not only served as a form of entertainment but also played a significant role in shaping Black queer history. They became a symbol of resistance, resilience, and creativity, laying the groundwork for the vibrant Black LGBTQ+ community that continues to influence popular culture today. The Harlem Balls are a testament to the strength and ingenuity of Black queer individuals who defied societal norms and found empowerment and joy in their shared experiences.





B JE 4


For many in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, the hypnotic sounds of disco conjures images of Fire Island, New York City and San Francisco of the 1970s. But it’s critical to understand, the history of disco was profoundly shaped by the contributions of queer Black people, who played a central role in its development and cultural impact. The origins of disco can be traced back to the marginalized communities, particularly the Black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ communities, who sought refuge and liberation in the vibrant and inclusive atmosphere of discotheques. The disco movement provided a space for self-expression, connection, and empowerment, becoming a symbol of resistance against societal oppression and discrimination.

Black artists and communities made indelible contributions to the disco genre, with iconic figures such as Sylvester, Donna Summer, Loleatta Holloway, and Marvin Gaye shaping its sound and ethos. Their music not only defined the disco era but also influenced subsequent genres like house and hip-hop.

Furthermore, the queer Black community played a pivotal role in the cultural and political significance of disco. The disco scene became a platform for queer individuals to express their identities openly and authentically, challenging traditional gender norms and fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance.

In essence, the history of disco is inseparable from the influence and contributions of queer Black people. Disco's influence extended to music, fashion, and dance, with its impact still felt in today's popular culture. The genre's emphasis on inclusivity and celebration of marginalized communities reflects the significant role of black queer individuals in shaping 2SLGBTQ+ culture, providing a platform for self-expression and empowerment within the community.





B JE 5

Vogue Culture & Willi Ninja, the “Grandfather of Vogue”

Willi Ninja and Vogue Culture are critical to understanding the role of queer Black people in shaping all 2SLGBTQ+ culture. Willi Ninja, a Black gay man, was a pioneer of voguing, a dance form that emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene. Voguing, with its roots in Black and Latinx queer communities, became a cultural phenomenon and laid the foundation for modern dance and performance art. Ninja's influence extended to the mainstream through his work in the documentary "Paris is Burning," which brought voguing and ballroom culture to a global audience.

Voguing, as an art form, provided a platform for queer Black individuals to express themselves and challenge societal norms. It became a symbol of resilience and empowerment for marginalized communities. The impact of voguing on music, fashion, and dance continues to be felt today, with its influence evident in popular culture and the entertainment industry.

The contributions of Willi Ninja and the cultural significance of voguing highlight the creativity, innovation, and resilience of queer Black individuals. Their influence has been instrumental in shaping 2SLGBTQ+ culture, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and celebrating the diverse contributions of Black queer communities to the cultural landscape.





B JE 6

RuPaul Takes Drag to Primetime

After RuPaul’s first appearance as a back-up dancer in the B-52’s 1989 smash hit, Love Shack, her flamboyant, outspoken, and powerful presence made her a successful regular on late night talk shows in the early 1990s. From the beginning, RuPaul was putting a human, while also grand, lens on drag culture – and proudly put drag in the living rooms of the world. And though RuPaul had her own show on VH1 for a couple of years, it was in 2009, with the first season RuPaul’s Drag Race, that a dynasty was born. From there, RuPaul’s influence on modern drag culture are undeniable.

As the host and executive producer of "RuPaul's Drag Race," he has brought drag into the mainstream, providing a platform for drag performers to showcase their artistry and talent. The show has not only introduced a wider audience to the world of drag but has also served as a catalyst for the revitalization of drag culture. Through various challenges and competitions, "RuPaul's Drag Race" has celebrated the diversity of drag, from high glamour to avant-garde, and has highlighted the creativity and skill of drag artists.

Furthermore, RuPaul's impact extends beyond the show. His unapologetic presence as a Black, gay, and gender-fluid individual in the entertainment industry has been revolutionary, challenging societal norms and inspiring countless individuals within the 2SLGBTQ+ community. By breaking down barriers and promoting self-expression, RuPaul has played a pivotal role in empowering drag performers and fostering greater acceptance of diverse gender identities and expressions. His influence on modern drag culture is profound, as he continues to be a trailblazer and an icon for future generations of drag artists and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals.






We're just getting started. Be sure to come back tomorrow for some learning about the impact of queer Black culture.