ActivismLGBTQIA+Living the Fuck Out Loud

The Cost We Pay When We Erase The History Of Black LGBQT+ Leaders

February 22, 2022

Black LGBTQ+ leaders have trailblazed through America’s history for decades, contributing their creativity to politics, art, medicine, science, math, music, and more. If it weren’t for these history makers, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have some of the privileges and opportunities we experience today. But like many, these leaders in the LGBTQ+ community were tried, tired, discriminated against, and silenced in numerous ways when society couldn’t see past their sexual orientations and identities.

Why does hate attempt to erase such incredible history?
Simply put fear. When society pushes a narrative of what ‘normal’ is, there’s a follow-up attempt to fit life’s experiences and history into it. When something doesn’t fit into the narrative, suppression, silencing, and more can happen.  

For example, the late James Baldwin (1924-1987), an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet during the Civil-Rights era, tended to live fearlessly in his openly gay identity. With a fascinating story to tell, Baldwin’s writing served as the ‘connection’ between Black and white readers who tended to lack the opportunity to discuss differences in cultures. 

He also explored controversial themes and topics in Queer sexual identities, such as in his 1956 novel, “Giovanni’s Room,” which deep-dived into the intrinsic concepts of gayness and a sexual relationship between two white gay men. But Baldwin’s gifts to society didn’t stop there—he was an activist and an educator, and he exemplified his passions through his work.

Ever candid and valiant, Baldwin paid a price for his choice to be himself. Faultfinders attempted to dim Baldwin’s light and contributions. When he tried to help the Black Panthers, he was criticized and condemned because of his sexuality. When he protested during the March on Washington in 1963, he was mysteriously removed from the list of speakers, according to NPR

While he stood for being both Black and gay, seemingly, Baldwin’s counterparts forced him into deciding whether he’d represent his blackness or his gayness—but not both.    

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), an outspoken liberation activist, drag queen, and performer, is renowned for her trans and human rights leadership. She was a key player during the 1969 Stonewall uprising and helped form the radical political party, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR). The political organization supported LGBTQ+ homeless youth and sex workers in Manhattan. Johnson’s middle name P. stood for “Pay it no mind,” her response when questioned about her gender.

Although Johnson helped define the LGBTQ+ movement through her contributions, she was tragically found dead at the age of 46.

So what happens in fear does erase our leaders?
When fear suppresses our Black leaders and erases the fullness of thier stories created from a diverse population of sexualities and identities, it eliminates the understanding and perception of the actual past and the path created for the community today. 

When truthful identities are removed from historians like Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Lorraine Hansberry, to name a few, we lose context of what they stood for, where their determination came from, and some of us lose out on the chance to be inspired by people ‘just like them.’