Though they have been historically overlooked, queer people of color are making great strides toward equality and gaining a louder voice on the political stage. And people like Hope Giselle and Laphonza Butler are leading the way.
60th Anniversary of the March
“Live Out Loud” – the 1963 march on Washington was a major historic achievement for the U.S. civil rights movement, and its 60th anniversary this year was buzzing with excitement.
Before the main program began the stage was given to a group of Black LGBTQ activists to speak about the unique issues their group faces.
The Speeches Begin
One of the speakers was Hope Giselle, a Black and trans advocate and communications director for the GSA Network, a queer non-profit group that helps to form gay-straight alliances in U.S. schools.
An Overshadowed History
The struggle for LGBTQ rights is one close to Giselle’s heart and the anniversary was an important platform for bringing attention to that struggle, particularly within the Black community.
It was easy for the legacy of Black queer people to be overshadowed or even erased by the wider history of the Black civil rights movement.
Queer and Black
She wanted to make it clear to people that queer black people still face anti-Black racism alongside transphobia and homophobia.
“One of the things that I need for people to understand is that the Black queer community is still Black” she declared.
It Doesn’t Save You
She continued on. “On top of being Black and queer, we have to also then distinguish what it means to be queer in a world that thinks that queerness is adjacent to whiteness – and that queerness saves you from racism. It does not.”
Breaking Political Boundaries
Giselle is not the only Black queer representative bringing attention to the struggles of their community.
Women like Laphonza Butler, the first Black and lesbian senator in the history of the U.S. Congress, are also making inroads in the halls of power.
Butler has not avoided discussions around her identity, telling the Associated Press that she hopes her appointment to Congress signals progress in the representation of queer and Black people.
“It’s too early to tell. But what I know is that history will be recorded in our National Archives, the representation that I bring to the United States Senate,” she said.
Tactics of Erasure
“I am not shy or bashful about who I am and who my family is,” she continued proudly. “So my hope is that I have lived out loud enough to overcome the tactics of today.
But we don’t know yet what the tactics of erasure are for tomorrow.”
Things are certainly looking up for those who fear that Black and queer people are dangerously underrepresented in the political sphere.
Along with Butler’s recent appointment, the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute has released a report for 2023 showing that Black LGBTQ+ political representation has grown by 186% in the last 4 years.
These demographic changes have been improving year after year.
Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones are two former New York congressmen who made headlines for being openly gay Black and Afro-Latino congressmen.
Lori Lightfoot, former mayor of Chicago, is a high-profile politician who gained significant attention for being the first openly lesbian Black woman to be appointed mayor of a major U.S. city.
Andrea Jenkins is another significant example, as the first Black transgender woman to hold public office.
Bridging the Gap
As both the Minneapolis city council president and a Black trans woman, Jenkins is also passionate about political representation and normalizing queerness in Black spaces.
“We need to have more Black, queer, transgender, nonconforming identified people in these political spaces to aid and bridge those gaps,” she told reporters.
One Over the Other
One significant issue these leaders have had to face, as well as the Black queer advocates that have come before them, is the minimization of their queer identities in favor of amplifying their Blackness.
Some believe this was a strategy to make these figures more “respectable,” as well as punish these marginalized individuals for not adequately assimilating into the wider Black culture at the time.
Left in the Past
Today, these tactics are becoming a thing of the past as Black LGBTQ+ leaders like Giselle and Butler become more open and unapologetic about all parts of their identity.
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Juan_Hernandez. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.