Pride started with a riot and we couldn’t be more thankful that the movement gathered us together to fight for equity for the LGBTQ+ community. While it wasn’t the start of the Gay Liberation Movement, the Stonewall riots in 1969 were critical for the movement to gain traction. In the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, you find the stories of some of the most influential Black LGBTQ+ individuals who shaped the course of American history and pressed our nation to fight for both racial equity and for those identifying as LGBTQ+.
Here are 5 instrumental individuals you should know.
Marsha P. Johnson
- One of the most recognizable names associated with the start of the Gay Rights Movement. Marsha “pay it no mind” Johnson participated in the Stonewall Riots and was a prominent figure in the Gay Liberation Movement. She is credited with helping start the riot on the morning of June 28, 1969. She was an activist and an advocate, starting her own program to provide shelter and community for homeless and transgender humans.
Loretta Mary Aiken aka Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley
- She is known for the character she created, Moms, who was a granny-like character that wanted younger men. Moms was a regular performer, one of the first women to work in comedy, and the first comedian to incorporate lesbian stand-up within her acts. Moms was instrumental in helping to break down barriers, such as color and gender, within the world of comedy.
- A jack of many trades, James Baldwin is known for his essays, novels, playwrights, poems, and most notably, his social justice advocacy. He was an openly gay man during a time when homosexuality was taboo in society and he took the opportunity to discuss the intersectionalities of his identities within his writing. His writings were completed during one of the most tumultuous times for Black humans in America and discuss the meaning behind being human.
- Alvin, a dancer and choreographer, made his way to Broadway and created the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. This company garnered the reputation of being the leading dance interpreter of the African American experience. Alvin received the United Nations Peace Medal, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Spingarn Medal, and was honored by President Barack Obama for his achievements in the arts.
- If you asked her to describe herself, you’d get the answer of I’m a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet.” Audre dedicated her life to speaking out against injustices against Black humans and the LGBTQ+ community. She spoke to the entire human experience encompassing one’s identity within their gender, race, sexual orientation, class, age, ability, and a multitude of other identities. Now, we know this as intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw.
“The lives and contributions of LGBT communities are an integral part of the larger story we tell. These stories aren’t isolated or segregated from the larger narrative but are a natural and intrinsic part of the broader story we’re sharing regarding the broad contributions of African Americans to American history and culture.” - Aaron Bryant, Center For Black Equity