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10 Historical Black and Latine LGBTQ+ People to Know

Intersectionality is crucial when discussing LGBTQ+ identities and race as it recognizes that individuals possess multiple identities that intersect and shape their experiences. LGBTQ+ people of color face unique challenges and forms of discrimination that arise from the intersection of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and racial or ethnic background. By acknowledging intersectionality, we gain a deeper understanding of the complex ways in which systems of oppression operate, and how they impact individuals on multiple fronts. It highlights the need to address not only LGBTQ+ issues but also racial justice, as marginalized communities cannot be understood or supported in isolation.

Intersectionality helps to dismantle the idea of a single, monolithic LGBTQ+ experience and encourages inclusive discussions that address the specific needs, struggles, and triumphs of LGBTQ+ people of color.

To begin your discussion of intersectionality, connect the lives and lessons of LGBTQ+ people of color from history.

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

An African American writer, novelist, essayist, and social critic. Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, Baldwin became an influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement and an articulate voice on issues of race, sexuality, and identity. His works explored the complexities of racial and sexual discrimination in American society, challenging societal norms and advocating for equality and justice.

Baldwin's notable literary works include Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, and The Fire Next Time. Through his writings, he delved into personal experiences and the broader struggles faced by African Americans in a deeply segregated society. His profound insights and eloquent prose continue to resonate with readers today.

To learn more about James Baldwin, you can start by reading his books, which offer a rich exploration of his life and ideas. Additionally, there are several documentaries and films that delve into his life and legacy, such as "I Am Not Your Negro" (2016), based on his unfinished manuscript, and "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket" (1989). These resources provide a deeper understanding of Baldwin's profound impact on literature, social activism, and his ongoing relevance in contemporary conversations on race and sexuality.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

An African American transgender activist and a central figure in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Born Malcolm Michaels Jr. in New Jersey, Johnson moved to New York City's Greenwich Village in the 1960s, where she became a prominent figure in the LGBTQ+ community.

Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) along with Sylvia Rivera, an organization that provided support and advocacy for transgender and homeless youth. She tirelessly advocated for the rights of marginalized individuals, especially transgender people of color, fighting against discrimination and violence.

Tragically, Johnson's life was cut short under mysterious circumstances in 1992. Her untimely death sparked calls for further investigation and attention to violence against transgender individuals.

To learn more about Marsha P. Johnson, you can watch the documentary "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" (2017), directed by David France. This film examines her life, activism, and the circumstances surrounding her death.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Rustin was an influential civil rights leader and activist who played a significant role in the African American civil rights movement. Born on March 17, 1912, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Rustin dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality and social justice.

Rustin's contributions to the civil rights movement are numerous. He was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. Rustin's organizational skills and commitment to nonviolent resistance made him a vital figure in the movement.

Despite his crucial role, Rustin faced significant challenges and discrimination due to his identity as a gay man. His sexual orientation often made him a target of discrimination and led to his marginalization within the movement. Nevertheless, he remained steadfast in his dedication to justice for all, fighting not only for racial equality but also for LGBTQ+ rights.

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002)

Sylvia Rivera was a transgender Latina activist and one of the pioneering figures in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Born on July 2, 1951, in New York City, she dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Rivera's activism began at a young age when she participated in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, a pivotal event in LGBTQ+ history. Following the Stonewall riots, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that provided support and resources to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in New York City.

Rivera advocated for the inclusion of transgender rights within the broader fight for LGBTQ+ equality, often emphasizing the intersectionality of oppression and the importance of centering the voices of transgender people of color. She tirelessly worked to address issues such as housing discrimination, police brutality, and healthcare disparities affecting the transgender community.

To learn more about Sylvia Rivera and her impactful work check out The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History .

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde was a groundbreaking Black feminist writer, poet, and civil rights activist. Born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, she used her words to champion intersectional feminism, advocate for social justice, and challenge systems of oppression.

Lorde's writing explored themes of race, gender, sexuality, and identity, offering a powerful voice to marginalized communities. Her poetry collections, essays, and speeches provided profound insights into the experiences of Black women and the broader struggle for equality.

Lorde's work emphasized the importance of embracing one's own identity and celebrating differences, encouraging individuals to harness their personal power and effect meaningful change in the world. She was also a prominent advocate for the inclusion of intersectionality in feminist and civil rights movements.

Learn more about Audre's impact by checking out Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, and visit the official website of The Audre Lorde Project, a New York City-based organization dedicated to honoring Lorde's legacy and continuing her work for racial, gender, and economic justice.

José Sarria (1922-2013)

A Mexican-American drag queen and activist who was one of the first openly gay political candidates in the United States. Born on December 12, 1922, in San Francisco, Sarria is widely recognized as one of the first openly gay candidates to run for public office in the country.

Sarria's activism emerged in the 1950s and 1960s when LGBTQ+ individuals faced severe discrimination and were subject to laws criminalizing homosexuality. As a drag performer, Sarria gained popularity for their cabaret acts, often blending entertainment with political messages. They became a beloved figure in the LGBTQ+ community, providing a platform for activism and fostering a sense of unity and pride.

In 1961, Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay candidate to do so. Although they did not win the election, their campaign laid the foundation for future LGBTQ+ political representation.

To learn more about José Sarria and their contributions to LGBTQ+ activism, here are some media sources you can explore:

"Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria" directed by Joe Castel, this documentary provides an in-depth look at Sarria's life, activism, and impact on the LGBTQ+ community, including their groundbreaking political campaign. You can also check out the José Sarria Foundation.

Gladys Bentley (1907-1960)

Gladys Bentley was a trailblazing African American blues singer, pianist, and entertainer who challenged societal norms and defied expectations of gender and sexuality in the early 20th century. Born on August 12, 1907, in Philadelphia, Bentley gained fame for her bold performances and flamboyant style.

Bentley's unique talent and larger-than-life persona captivated audiences during the Harlem Renaissance era. She was known for her powerful voice and her ability to command attention on stage, often performing in men's clothing and adopting a masculine presentation.

Bentley's performances, which included her own compositions and risqué lyrics, broke barriers and challenged traditional gender roles and sexuality norms. Her unabashed queerness and defiance of societal expectations made her an icon within the LGBTQ+ community, particularly among lesbian and gender-nonconforming individuals.

To learn more about Gladys Bentley and her contributions to music and LGBTQ+ history check out, Queer Blues: The Lesbian and Gay Guide to Overcoming Depression by Kim L. Halford and Stephen M. Tomsen.

Stormé DeLarverie (1920-2014)

Stormé was a pioneering LGBTQ+ activist, singer, and drag king who played a notable role in the fight for queer rights, particularly during the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Born on December 24, 1920, in New Orleans, DeLarverie became an emblematic figure in LGBTQ+ history, celebrated for her resilience, courage, and contributions to the community.

DeLarverie's influence extends beyond her involvement in the Stonewall riots. As a talented performer, she toured the country as a singer and drag king, captivating audiences with her powerful voice and charismatic stage presence. Additionally, her identity as a biracial lesbian, coupled with her gender presentation, challenged societal norms and inspired others to embrace their authentic selves.

While the specifics of her actions during the Stonewall uprising are subject to debate, DeLarverie is often credited with instigating resistance against the police, becoming a symbol of strength and defiance. Her involvement in the riots marked a turning point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, fueling the momentum for future activism.

To learn more about Stormé DeLarverie and her significant contributions, here are some media sources you can watch Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box.

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)

An African American dancer, choreographer, and activist who made a profound impact on modern dance. Born in Rogers, Texas, Ailey discovered his passion for dance at an early age. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, which became renowned for its innovative and expressive performances.

Ailey's choreography was deeply influenced by his African American heritage, incorporating elements of blues, spirituals, and jazz into his works. He sought to showcase the diverse experiences of black people through his dances, addressing issues of race, identity, and social justice. His most famous work, "Revelations," is a powerful reflection on the African American experience and has been widely acclaimed as a masterpiece.

To learn more about Alvin Ailey, you can watch the documentary Ailey (2021) or read "Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance" by Jennifer Dunning.

Pedro Zamora (1972-1994)

A Cuban-American AIDS educator, activist, and reality television personality. Born in Havana, Cuba, Zamora immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of eight. He was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 17, and instead of succumbing to despair, he became a vocal advocate for HIV/AIDS education and awareness.

Zamora rose to prominence as a cast member on the MTV reality show "The Real World: San Francisco" in 1994. His participation on the show brought HIV/AIDS awareness to a broad audience, as he openly discussed his status and personal experiences. Zamora's advocacy work and his compassionate nature made a lasting impact on the show's viewers, as well as the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Unfortunately, Zamora's life was tragically cut short due to complications from AIDS at the age of 22, just months after the show's finale. However, his legacy and impact continue to inspire and educate people about HIV/AIDS and the importance of acceptance and compassion.

To learn more about Pedro Zamora, you can watch the entire season of "The Real World: San Francisco (Season 3) and read "Pedro and Me" by Judd Winick, a graphic novel that recounts the friendship between Zamora and his "Real World" castmate.

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