For pride month this year, I will be researching a black activist in the LGBTQ+ community every day to learn about these amazing people in my community. Please join me in celebrating these amazing people now and forever.
June 1st: Today I will be highlighting Marsha P. Johnson, who was a gay liberation activist and drag queen.
Contrary to popular belief, Marsha did not throw the first brick at Stonewall or start the uprising. She arrived later after hearing what was going on, but her activism stretches so much further than Stonewall.
She founded the Gay Liberation Front, which organized marches and demanded an end to persecution for gay people. The GLF also denounced racism and challenged traditional family and gender roles.
Marsha also founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with friend Sylvia Rivera. The organization provided housing and support to homeless queer youth and sex workers in Lower Manhattan.
Marsha and Sylvia were both very active at marches. In 1973, they were both banned from participating in the pride parade because of a gay and lesbian committee that believe drag queens were giving the movement “a bad name.” They responded by marching at the front of the parade.
Marsha died in 1992, but her legacy lives on. The Black and Latino LGBT community in New York led the fight for gay rights for decades. Marsha was inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument in 2019.
June 2nd: Today I will be highlighting Richard Bruce Nugent, who was a gay African American writer, artist, and actor during the Harlem Renaissance.
Richard was an artist and writer, who had many published stories and works. His short story “Sadhji” is an African morality tale and his first published poem “Shadows” is, according to Richard himself, about “loneliness and being treated as someone different.”
Richard lived with Wallace Thurman for four years, which helped his story “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” get published in Thurman’s publication. The story is about bisexuality and male desire. It is thought to be the first explicitly gay story published by a black writer.
In the 1960s, Richard helped found the Harlem Cultural Council, which sought federal funds for the arts in Harlem. The council also built the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
During the 1980s, Richard helped bridge the gap between the Harlem Renaissance and the black gay movement. He died in 1987 after a long career of bringing light to gay and black culture.
Also here are two amazing paintings that he did!
Here‘a a thread of petitions you all should sign!
https://twitter.com/berensbby/status/1267764004077830144?s=21 https://twitter.com/berensbby/status/1267764004077830144
June 3rd: Today I will be highlighting Gladys Bentley! She was a black, lesbian entertained during the Harlem Renaissance that was known for dressing like a man when she performed.
Gladys moved to Harlem when she was 16. Harry Hansberry’s Clam House, which was a gay speakeasy, was looking for a male pianist. Gladys began dressing in men’s attire for this job and became popular as she perfected her act while performing there.
Gladys became extremely popular. Her performances were “comical, sweet, and risqué” at the time. She would sing parodies of songs where she would call out men and openly sing about her female lovers while flirting with women in the audience.
In 1933, Gladys tried to move her act to Broadway. There she received many complaints about her performances which led to police locking the doors of places where she performed. She moved back to Harlem in 1934 and played at the Ubangi Club until 1937.
Unfortunately when Prohibition was repealed and Harlem speakeasies went on the decline, Gladys’s career started to slow down. She moved to California and as federal laws continued to change she had to carry special permits to be able to perform in men’s clothing.
During the Red Scare, Gladys began to start wearing dresses after years of harassment for her masculine style. She also married a man named Charles Roberts, who later would deny that they ever married.
In 1952, Gladys wrote an essay titled “I Am a Woman Again” in which she talked about undergoing hormone treatments to make herself heterosexual. She had just been ordained as a minister before she died of pneumonia in 1960.
Bentley was a significant and inspiring figure for the LGBT community and African Americans. Below is a quote from a book by James Wilson about the Harlem Renaissance that perfectly sums up her revolutionary masculinity.
June 4th: Today I am highlighting Bayard Rustin, an amazing activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and fought for the rights of so African Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.
After graduating college, Rustin immediately began his life of activism. In the 1940s he was organizing marches on Washington to pressure the president into passing legislation that would end racial discrimination. He was arrested in 1942 for refusing to sit in the back of a bus.
He traveled to India and Africa, joining protests against British colonial rule. Rustin took his belief of nonviolent resistance into the 1950s, when he became an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Together they organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March On Washington.
But Rustin was forced to work behind the scenes. In 1953 he was arrested for sexual activity with another man. He pleaded guilty to a charge of “sex perversion” and served 60 days in jail. Before and after this Rustin still remained candid about his sexuality.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin and MLK were threatened by a US Senator seeking to undermine them. He spread false rumors of an affair between the two of them, and so Rustin received no public credit for the March On Washington at the time in 1962.
Rustin would continue to be an advocate for his entire life. In the 1980s he began speaking out about gay rights at the urge of his partner, Walter Neagle. Rustin died in 1987, and was posthumously given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
June 5th: Today I am highlighting Stormé DeLarverie, the “guardian of lesbians in the Village” and the woman most believe threw the first punch at Stonewall.
Stormé was born to a white father and an African American mother. She started performing as a singer in her late teens, and from 1955 to 1969 she was a part of a drag show called the Jewel Box Revue.
The Jewel Box Revue was North America’s first racially integrated drag show. During the shows, Stormé would dress as a man. At the time there were very few drag kings performing, and some say she set a precedent for future drag kings.
In 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a woman was escorted by police out of the bar. She fought against them, the police beating her in front of the crowd. After calling out to the crowd, that is when the riot started. Stormé identified herself as that woman.
While nobody truly knows who threw the first punch at Stonewall, it is widely rumored that it really was Stormé. She said of what happened, “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising. It was a civil rights disobedience- It wasn’t no damn riot.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Stormé worked as a bouncer for many lesbian bars in NYC. She became known as the “guardian of the lesbians in the Village.” Into her 80s, she would roam the streets with her licensed gun looking out for any intolerance against her “baby girls.”
Stormé passed away in 2014. Friend Lisa Cannistraci, who took care of her in her old age, said she was “a very serious woman when it came to protecting people she loved.” She is remembered to this day as a gay civil rights icon.
June 6th: Today I am highlighting James Baldwin, an activist and writer whose works focused around what it was like to be African American and homosexuality.
James grew up in Harlem in the 1920s-30s. He was extremely intelligent, and began writing in high school. He was the literary editor of his school’s magazine, but despite this he disliked school because of the racism he encountered there.
When he was 24, James moved to Paris, having become angered by the prejudice he faced in America for his race and sexuality. While in France he published many of his most famous works, such as Notes of a Native Son and Giovanni’s Room.
James returned to the United States in the 1960s, and he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He continued writing while also touring and lecturing to students about racial inequality. In 1963 he was put on the cover of Time magazine.
Time said of him in that issue, “There is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South.”
James met with Robert F. Kennedy to talk about the Civil Rights Movement, and he went to the March On Washington. Despite this, James did not like calling himself an activist. He was friends with many notable people, such as Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, and Malcolm X.
His novel, Giovanni’s Room, came out in 1956 and was considered controversial at the time because of its “explicit homoerotic content.” His next two novels Another Country and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone featured black, white, straight, gay, and bisexual characters.
Baldwin lived in France later in his life, and he died there in 1987. He was always surrounded by friends, many of them famous names, and he continued to write until the day of the death. His stories inspired many works and he is honored at the Stonewall National Monument.
His 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk was also turned into a movie in 2018!
June 7th: Today I am highlighting Audre Lorde, a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.”
Audre grew up in New York City, and at a young age fell in love with poetry. She once said that she used to speak in poetry, having memorized poems and would use their lines to express how she was feeling. She started writing her own poetry when she was 12 years old.
Audre graduated from Hunter College in 1959 and then got her master’s degree from Columbia University. She then worked in New York as a librarian, and during this time also married a white gay man named Edwin Rollins, with whom she had 2 children before they divorced in 1970.
Her poetry and prose captured emotions she felt during her life. Works such as “From a Land Where Other People Live” and “New York Gead Shoo and Museum” deal with themes of anger and injustice. Her poetry grew more personal as she aged and became more confident in her sexuality.
In 1980 Audre published “The Cancer Journals,” an account of her own struggle with breast cancer. After having a mastectomy, she fought to bring light to the silence surrounding cancer and illness experienced by women.
In 1981 with writer Barbara Smith, she founded Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, which was dedicated to amplifying the writing of black feminists. Audre also created the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa to help black women under apartheid.
Audre’s works are incredibly important to feminist and queer theory today. Her literary legacy as well as the ideologies she brought to feminism and womanism. She died of breast cancer in 1992.
A quote from her: “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”
Correcting a typo!!!! The second work mentioned here is “New York Dead Shop and Museum.” Apologies for the mistake, I didn’t catch it before I hit send.
June 8th: Today I am highlighting Alvin Ailey, who was a dancer, director, and choreographer.
Alvin grew up in racist and segregated Texas at the height of the Great Depression. Abandoned by his father, he and his mother worked in cotton fields and domestic jobs in white homes. They moved from town to town, until they finally left Texas in 1941.
Alvin attended high school in Los Angeles, where he had his first experience with dance when he saw a performance at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. He became serious about dance a few years later when friend Carmen De Lavallade took him to the studio of Lester Horton.
Alvin studied a wide range of dance styles at Horton’s school, which was one of the first racially integrated dance schools in the US. Alvin decided to study language and writing at UCLA before returning to dance for Horton in 1953.
When Horton died suddenly of a heart attack, Alvin took over as artistic director of his school until 1954, when he and Carmen were recruited to dance on Broadway for the show “House of Flowers.” He danced on Broadway for a few years, but found it didn’t quite fulfill him.
In 1958 he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with a vision of honoring black culture through dance. Their first two ballets, “Blues Suite” and “Revelations” were a big success, but despite this the company struggled to find bookings in America.
The company toured in Asia, Africa, and Europe, where they found great success. After a monumental tour in Russia, they returned home and sold out 2 weeks of shows at a Broadway theater in 1971.
Alvin choreographed over 70 ballets for his dancers, but insisted the company also perform pieces by other choreographers. AAADT’s repertoire today has over 200 ballets. He also choreographed ballets for major companies such as American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera.
AAADT was formed to celebrate African American culture and give opportunities to black dancers who were often denied jobs, however Alvin proudly employed artists based solely on their talent, regardless of their background.
In 1969 he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center with Pearl Lang. Their goal was to provide access to the arts in under-resourced communities. The school currently is located in New York City trains over 3,000 students annually.
Despite it being known that he was gay, Alvin was very private about his romantic life. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1989.
(Also just wanted to say I think this photo is so beautiful.)
Alvin’s dance school continues to inspire dancers like him, and his ballet “Revelations” is still performed today. He was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 and has a carter on Mercury named after him.
Here’s a video of some highlights from Revelations! You can check out some full performances on YouTube as well from the ballet.
June 9th: Today I’m highlighting Ernestine Eckstein, a lesbian activist who helped steer the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the 1960s.
She was born in 1941 with the given name Ernestine Delois Eppenger, but later while doing her activist work she would use the name Eckstein to hide her identity. She did this to protect herself from being outed in circles where it wasn’t safe to be out.
Ernestine moved to New York after she graduated college and came into her lesbian identity. She began attending meetings of the New York Mattachine Society and then the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the US.
In 1965, Ernestine was the only person of color to march in front of the White House at the first Annual Reminder Day. She soon became the Vice President of the DOB and started pushing for more activism within the queer community.
At the time, the LGBTQ+ organizations were run by “old guard” leaders who wanted to pursue rights through doctors and psychologists. Young activists like Ernestine saw gay rights as an issue of civil rights and wanted to take the approach of protesting and lobbying.
Tired of the disagreements in the DOB over strategies and tactics, she left New York City for California. In San Francisco she joined Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA) which had a very progressive style of organization that reflected her own ideas.
Not much is known about Ernestine after she moved to California. She passed away in 1992, but she left a mark as one of the most progressive thinkers of her time. In a white dominated movement that was struggling to organize, she helped push it towards direct action.
“I would like to see in the homophile movement more people who can think. And I don’t believe we ought to look at their titles or at their sexual orientation. Movements should be intended, I feel, to erase labels, whether black or white or homosexual or heterosexual.”
June 10th: Today I am highlighting Ron Oden who was the first openly gay and African American elected to lead a California City.
Oden started his political career in 1990 when he moved to Palm Springs to teach sociology. In 1995 he was elected to the Palm Springs City Council after only five years of being in the city.
He was elected Mayor of Palm Springs in 2003. He became the first openly gay African American elected to lead a California City. During his time in office he promoted diversity through organizations like the Palm Springs Human Rights Task Force.
Often served as mayor until 2007. He was honored with a golden star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. He still lives in Palm Springs (now 70 years old) and continues to work in the public sector.
June 11th: Today I’m highlighting Barbara Jordan, a lawyer and politician who broke barriers as the first African American congresswoman from the South.
Barbara lived in Texas all her life and went to Texas Southern University, a historically black college because segregation did not allow her to attend most other schools. Despite this she was national champion debater, defeating opponents from Yale and tying with Harvard.
After graduating Boston University School of Law she started a private law practice in Houston in 1960. She tried in 1962 and 1964 to run for the Texas House of Representatives. Instead she won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966.
The was the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. In 1972 she was elected to the House of Representatives. In 1974 she made an influential televised speech to the House Judiciary Committee to impeach Richard Nixon.
In 1976 she became the first African American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Even though she wasn’t a candidate, she recurved one delegate vote for President at this convention.
Barbara retired from politics in 1979 and became a professor teaching ethics. In 1994 she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom and was given over 20 honorary degrees from schools across the country, including Harvard and Princeton.
Barbara never publicly acknowledge her sexuality, but she was open about her life partner of almost 30 years, Nancy Earl. Barbara passed away in 1996.
June 12th: Today I am highlighting Phill Wilson, the founder of the Black AIDS Institute.
Phill’s career in activism began in the early 1980s when he and his partner, Chris Brownlie, were diagnosed with HIV. Relief for HIV/AIDS was focused mainly in white, gay communities, but Phill believed the epidemic affected black communities much more.
When he graduated college he moved to LA and got involved with the National Association of Black and White Men Together. He also worked for the AIDS Project in LA, and was also the AIDS Coordinator for LA. From 1990 to 1995 he was the co-chair of the LA HIV Health Commission.
His partner, Chris, died of an HIV-related illness in 1989, which inspired much of Phill’s activism. He took a break in 1997 when his own disease became too immobilizing, but he came back in 1999 and founded the Black AIDS Institute.
The BAI says on their website that they are “the only premier uniquely and unapologetically Black think and do tank in America powered by two decades of work to end the BlackHIV epidemic.” Phill retired in 2018 and BAI is currently headed by Raniyah Copeland.
And here’s a link to BAI’s website! I encourage you to support them if you can!
June 15th: Today I am highlighting Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a trans activist and Stonewall veteran.
Miss Major was born in Chicago in 1940. She came out as trans in the late 1950s, and was met with criticism and maltreatment. In order to transition she had to get hormones from the black market, and for a long time she relied on sex work and theft to support herself.
After moving to New York City, Miss Major found a safe haven at the Stonewall Inn. She was there when the police raided the bar, and she was a leader in the riots that took place. She was arrested that night and reported that a corrections officer broke her jaw.
She spent five years in a men’s prison, and much of her activism would surround the unfair incarceration of transgender people, especially trans people of color and those with low income. She also addressed the murders of young trans women that were being ignored.
Miss Major moved to San Diego in 1978, where she worked to provide direct services for trans women who were incarcerated, suffering from addiction, or homeless. The AIDS epidemic broke out while she was there and she worked with many HIV/AIDS organizations.
In 2003 she began working at the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). Through the organization she has fought against criminalization and police brutality and helped many trans women of color who have been incarcerated.
Miss Major now lives in Arkansas and continues to be a vocal activist. Her leadership at Stonewall and her activism for trans women of color will surely leave a lasting legacy.
I know I haven’t been adding to this thread everyday but I have been learning new things everyday. I wanted to attach this thread about about Juneteenth so you can also learn about its importance. https://twitter.com/nickystizzy/status/1271116403505012737?s=21 https://twitter.com/nickystizzy/status/1271116403505012737
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