As we move into Black History Month, it is imperative to acknowledge that without Black activists, the LGBTQ rights movement would not have advanced in such significant ways.
Celebrating the folks that came before us and honoring their activism gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of intersectional history that our current day activism is built upon. We must continue to talk about these trailblazers so that we never lose sight of our roots and allow for whitewashing of our history.
William Dorsey Swann was born into slavery in Maryland in 1860. Not only did he not conform to the social norms of the time, he also hosted drag events, referring to himself as the Queen of Drag. His arrest in 1888 was “one of the first known instances of resistance to queer oppression.”1 He fought for the right of queer folks to gather together.
Storme DeLarverie, born in Louisiana in 1920, is believed to have thrown the first punch during the Stonewall uprising in 1969. DeLarverie is quoted as saying that Stonewall was “a rebellion, an uprising, a civil rights disobedience.” 2 She spent her entire life vigilant against anti-LGBTQ and anti-black prejudices.
RuPaul’s Drag Race brought LGBTQ culture into the mainstream, but “ball” culture has its origin in Harlem in 1867. The Annual Odd Fellows Ball gave Queer Black and Latinx people a space to be their most authentic self, if only for a night. As folks are exposed to ball culture through RuPaul, common phrases such as “yas queen” and “throwing shade” have been imbedded into mainstream culture.3
When we understand the oppressive structures that make up our systems, we will be better equipped to dismantle them so that when we say all, we mean all.