Living in a Historical Moment for Black LGBTQ People: The Evolution of Queer Black Leadership

We are living in a historical moment for Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people — a moment that is on par with the Compton’s Cafeteria riot (1966) and Stonewall (1969). In both instances, trans women and queer people of color led the charge against constant police brutality and street harassment. The scenes of 2020 mirror those iconic actions, as Black LGBTQ people are still leading the way in the face of constant violence, harassment and discrimination.

In June 2020, during nationwide protests organized by Black transgender women and queer folks, tens of thousands of people came out to march, sing and dance, declaring not only that “BLACK LIVES MATTER” but that “BLACK QUEER, TRANS, LIVES MATTER.” This rallying cry of justice is rooted in the intersectional experiences of Black LGBTQ people.
Intersectionality, a framework designed by Black feminist scholar and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, takes into account the fact that people with multiple marginal identities face compounded challenges. This is true for Black LGBTQ people like myself, as we facedisproportionate obstacles accessing equitable opportunities and outcomes in healthcare, criminal justice, education, housing, employment and other essential services necessary to survive and thrive.

Pioneers & the Present

As we continue the march forward, we must be committed to looking back to the pioneers such as Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin, who paved the way for us, while simultaneously looking forward to the fights on the horizon. We continue to fight, because the reality is that Black LGBTQ people are still being killed at disparate rates, are still being economically exploited, and are still being harassed by police simply for existing in the world. 

To learn more about the history of Black LGBTQ leaders, and where the movement for Black queer and trans lives is headed next, join us for a “Fighting Back” panel on July 22 entitled “The Evolution of Black Leadership” (see the events section below for more information or register here). This panel will feature six Black LGBTQ movement leaders who will share their own personal experiences, critical historical context and social commentary on racial and LGBTQ justice in America. 

Author’s note: This article is written in memoriam of all those who have come before us whom we have lost too soon. Rest in power Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton, Titi Gulley and so many others. 

Bryce J. Celotto, M.A.T., is a proud Black, queer, transgender policy advocate, DEI strategist, historian and educator in Oakland.