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  • Writer's pictureWalnut

Black History Month Feat. Queer & Trans Black Icons

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month, but imagine what the world would look like if we celebrated Black people and their many achievements and contributions every single day of the year! One month is just not enough.


Throughout February we will be posting about Black LGBTQ+ icons. Black queer and trans people are often underrepresented in mainstream media despite being culture creators and visionaries. We hope that you learn something new from these posts!



Image Description: a white to purple gradient with the words "Black History" in the center. "Celebrating today and everyday" encircles the center.



 

Image description: A fat, Black woman with short hair stands at a microphone with her arms outstretched. She is smiling and wearing a beautifully beaded, flapper-style gown. Her supporting musicians are seated behind her.


Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey was a fat, Black, queer woman and is the undisputed "Mother of Blues." She was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance and has been posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She often expressed her queerness in her lyrics, for example, referring to “B.D. women” (bull dagger or bull dyke) and “sissy men.” In 1928, she released the song “Prove it on Me Blues,” which would come to be considered the lesbian anthem of her time. And she was once arrested when she was caught throwing an all-women’s “indecent party." She was certainly living the gay rock and roll lifestyle to its fullest!



Image description: Bayard Rustin in his later years, with white hair, a salt and pepper mustache, and black rimmed glasses. He is wearing a striped suit with a blue tie and a handkerchief in the breast pocket.


Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a Black queer man known for his impactful organizing work around racial justice, labor union organizing, and gay rights. Born not far from Philly in West Chester, PA, he began his organizing efforts as a youth fighting against Jim Crow laws. Though it is said that Rustin was unashamed of his sexuality, he did not get involved in gay rights until later in life.


Because he lived his life as an outwardly gay man, something that ended up getting him arrested, many civil rights leaders of the time were hesitant to involve Rustin in their movements. Some were explicitly homophobic and others were worried his unabashed sexuality would be a liability to their cause.

In spite of this, he later became a close friend and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin is often credited as educating King about the tactics of nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr valued Rustin’s talents and insisted on Rustin’s involvement in organizing efforts. With King’s support, Rustin was an instrumental leader in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Due to homophobia, his talent for organizing, leadership, and movement building Rustin’s contributions and influence have often been ignored and erased. Despite those trying to discredit him, Bayard Rustin spent his life working tirelessly for Black people, poor people, and workers. He is survived today by his long term partner, Walter Naegle, the executive director of the Bayard Rustin Fund, which commemorates Rustin's life, values, and legacy.



Image description: Miss Major, an older Black woman, standing in front of a gray backdrop with a stern look on her face. She is wearing a magenta blouse and her voluminous gray hair curls away from her face.


Miss Major

Miss Major, or Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, is an internationally recognized activist organizing for prisoner’s rights, sex workers rights, homeless people, and trans women’s rights. Her efforts especially prioritize trans women of color. As a leader at the Stonewall Riots, she was arrested after spitting in the face of a police officer. Miss Major’s lived experience as a formerly incarcerated person, a former sex worker, and a Black trans woman has informed her critical view of the modern LGBTQ movement. She believes the movement tends to exclude trans people, poor people, Black people, and formerly incarcerated people from holding leadership positions. She’s known to have said: “Just because there’s this umbrella, LGBT, we’re all grouped together. But guess what? Someone poked a hole in the umbrella and the girls are still getting wet.”


Miss Major’s contributions to her community are almost too many to name. She has worked with the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center, has served as Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project in San Francisco, has spoken to the UN on the lack of economic opportunities for transgender women of color in the US, and is the founder and current Executive Director of the House of GG in Little Rock, AR. She is the recipient of countless awards, proclamations, certificates, and public accolades for more than 50 years of a legendary and pioneering career in social justice and activism. Additionally, she is a mother, grandmother, and “mama” to many.




Image Description: Ceyenne, an older Black woman, is seated on a rattan chair looking directly into the camera. She is wearing a white button up shirt, a lovely blue shawl, and blue eyeliner. She has multiple silver bangles as well as a silver necklace and rings. Her hair is shoulder length and slightly windswept.


Ceyenne Doroshow

“Ceyenne Doroshow (pronounced Kai-Ann) is a compassionate powerhouse performer, activist, organizer, community-based researcher and public figure in the trans and sex worker rights’ movements. As the Founder and Executive Director of G.L.I.T.S., she works to provide holistic care to LGBTQ sex workers while serving on the following boards: SWOP Behind Bars, Caribbean Equality Project, and SOAR Institute. As an international public speaker, her presentations include The Desiree Alliance, Creating Change, SisterSong, Harm Reduction Coalition and the International AIDS Conferences and now PRIDE on FX. Ceyenne has published features in GQ, Vogue, TIME, ATMOS, i-D and many other publications. At the present time, Ceyenne is building her leadership academy and envisioning a medical center and combined housing unit in Queens,NY — building sustainability for the community like no other.” - from the G.L.I.T.S. website.


You can follow and support Ms. Doroshow on Instagram at her personal page and G.L.I.T.S..



Image Description: A black and white photo of Icon, where they are looking away from the camera and smiling while running her fingers through her hair.


Icon Ebony Fierce

Icon Ebony Fierce is a local icon, born and raised in Philadelphia! Since 2012, Icon has specialized in hosting, emceeing, burlesque, performance art, and drag. Their content and performances often include sex, body positivity, political/social issues, gender equality, and more. Icon’s mission is to change people's perception of artistic expression one subculture at a time and her contributions to our local community have done just that! They’ve been a curator for festivals like Phreak N Queer and Hot Bits Film Festival, they created a supply hub for protestors and activists at Sankofa house, co-organized the very first Black Philly Queer Town hall to address racial inequality in the drag and burlesque scenes, and have served as a board member at William Way. If you are lucky enough to see Icon perform in person you are certain to have a great time with this powerhouse community organizer and amazingly versatile performer.


You can follow Icon on Instagram.



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