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LGBTQIA+ Rights & Black Intersectionality

We cannot be an ally for Black lives without being an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, two of three Black Lives Matter founders identify as queer. It is substantially important that we explore these resources and educate ourselves to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association!


LGBTQIA Health provides a comprehensive set of terminology. We have included versions of their definitions below, but please feel free to click the link for further terms and reading:

Gender identity: A person’s innate, deeply-felt psychological identification, which may or may not correspond to the person’s external body or assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on the birth certificate). Sexual Orientation should not be used as a synonym for, or as inclusive of, “gender identity”. See Androgyne, Gender, Gender bender, Gender expression, Gender non-conforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Sex, Transgender, Two-Spirit

Gender expression: The external manifestation of a person’s gender identity, which may or may not conform to the socially-defined behaviors and external characteristics that are commonly referred to as either masculine or feminine. These behaviors and characteristics are expressed through carriage (movement), dress, grooming, hairstyles, jewelry, mannerisms, physical characteristics, social interactions, and speech patterns (voice). Those people whose gender expression is (1) neither masculine nor feminine or (2) different from traditional or stereotypic expectations of how a man or woman should appear or behave are sometimes referred to as gender non-conforming.

3. Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from their assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificates). Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person by their initial appearance and will use the pronouns affiliated with their assumption. However, making assumptions based on an individual’s appearance can be extremely harmful. Taking the time to find out and use an individual’s pronouns shows that you respect and validate their identity. As you use gender pronouns in everyday conversation, consider utilizing these steps in this link.

Always ask someone about their pronouns!

GLAAD’s website is also a wonderful resource, and you can visit their page here:

Transgender & Gay Culture and Activism from a Black Perspective: Past & Present

The beginning of Drag Queens was during the 1800’s, when William Dorsey Swann, became the first Queen of Drag. He was one of the first activists in America to be that focused on queer liberation. He paved the way for queer America’s recognition and rights. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy took the torch to continue the culture and activism that William Dorsey Swann started. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy began her involvement in Ballroom Culture with her friends as a teen. She later became a Queen and a significant activist in the rights of Black transgender women. Both of these queer activists spent their lives proud and dedicated. They do not have as much recognition as they should have, but their impacts have been great and revolutionary.

Travel through time to see the past & present of queer, Black, activism:

William Dorsey Swann:

(Pronouns: assumed to be He, Him, His, due to the lack of vocabulary around gender identity in the 1800’s)

William Dorsey Swann was the center of drag during the 1800’s. In 1860, he was born into slavery on a Ann Murray’s plantation in Hancock, Washington County, Maryland. As a free man during the 1880’s, he organized drag shows for the formerly enslaved African-American male population of Washington D.C. The audience wore feminine clothing or suits at their choice. The performers wore “women’s” clothing, long silk and satin dresses. In January, 1887, The Washington Critic wrote they “dressed in elegant female attire” and wore “low neck and short sleeve silk dresses, several of them with trains,” with some in “corsets, bustles, long hose and slippers, and everything that goes to make a female’s dress complete.” when one of Swann’s events was raided. The performers danced and sang, the way one would observe a modern drag performance. But, at the time, the performances were Cakewalks, versus Voguing. The man that performed the best, would earn a hoecake or another dessert. Every event was organized through word of mouth. One notable location of an event was at Swann’s lover, Pierce Lafayette’s two-story home, in 1887. Lafayette was previously enslaved by Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America. In 1882, Swann was jailed for stealing supplies for his gatherings, like silverware and plates. This was nothing other than a display of his dedication to provide the queer black community with a safe, joyful, and prideful space to congregate and celebrate their identities.

On April 12, 1888, someone reported one of Swan’s events to the police. When the police arrived, the individuals there immediately scattered, though Swann stayed. It has been documented that he told an officer, “You is no gentleman.” This insinuated a brawl, and the officers tore Swann’s “gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin.” This was one of the first fights documented in advocation of queer rights, but the first for drag. Officers then took him and about a dozen men to jail. This arrest was one of the first recorded accounts of American queer resistence. It caught the eye of many. Hundreds of people were lured by their curiosity to see what caused such a big ruckus in the D.C. community. Those that bore witness, regarded the people involved as “freaks”. The drag events Swann held were so rejected by America because they challenged the prominent belief that a man must be “manly” to be respected, which especially applied to free black men. It was Swann’s resistance and open rejection to this idea that made his actions and activism extremely profound. The Newspapers were quick to write about the incident. The news of this seemingly new occurrence traveled quickly up the East Coast.

On April 13, 1888, The Washington Post headlined the event as “Negro Dive Raided. Thirteen Black Men Dressed as Women Surprised at Supper and Arrested.” The National Republican, stating “‘The Queen’ Raided”. “The Queen” was Swann’s underground name, which he was referred to by those that knew of his drag productions. He also called himself the “Queen of Drag.” He was jailed many more times after this. In 1896, he was sentenced to 300 days in jail by a false charge of “keeping a disorderly house”, which was in lieu of him overseeing a brothel. While in jail, he continued resistence of queer oppression by writing to President Grover Cleveland to be let free. The petition was denied, however, it is still recognizable as significant in the history of queer America and it was the first recorded time that anyone pursed legal action to defend queerness.

It is unknown when Swann first started his life as The Queen and when he passed. But, it is known that he ensured his legacy lived on. Beginning in 1900, William Dorsey Swann’s younger brother, Daniel J. Swann presumed William’s position as the organizer of drag events until 1954. The Queen’s existence has affected American culture for the better and it is important that his existence does not go unnoticed.

Continue Reading:

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

(pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a legendary activist, who has dedicated her life to providing intersectional care for trans Black women. She was born in Chicago, IL in 1940. She started transitioning during her teenage years by buying pills on the black market. After being kicked out by her parents for her identity, she went to Minnesota for college, where she was expelled for owning dresses. She attended a different college and was expelled for the same reason, then moved to New York City in 1962. She turned to sex work and small thefts after being denied jobs due to her identity. She spent her time doing drag shows in gay bars and was at Stonewall Inn during the police raids that incited the riots, on June 28, 1967.

She participated in the riots and was knocked out by an officer. She was sent to Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1970, for 5 years, for robbery and was let out on good behavior. But, she was sent back to prison twice, first, due to her appearance, being that she shaved her body, had dyed short hair, and wore makeup, then, for being caught at a bar for trans and gay individuals. During her time at the Clinton Correctional Facility, Frank Smith, “Big Black,” a black radical activist, “politicized” her. Together, they worked, while inside the prison, to teach trans women and black cis men the importance of not falling into oppressive traps layed out for them by society. In 1995, she moved to San Francisco, CA and became an HIV educator and gave trans women of color the opportunity to be tested for the disease by working with the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center.

She also made connections with struggling black trans women, she would provide them with housing and give them support, emotionally and financially. They would often refer to her as “Mama” or “Granny.” She eventually became the Executive Director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. She would send letters to mostly trans women of color so they felt supported through the terrors of incarceration in male prisons. When the women would be released from prison, she would stay in contact with them, often meet them, help them adjust back into society, and recruit them into the organization. Currently, she is not the Executive Director, but she still fights for trans women of color. She has created the Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat and Historical Center, often called the “House of GG,” to “create safe and transformative spaces where members of our community can heal—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—from the trauma arising from generations of transphobia, racism, sexism, poverty, ableism and violence, and nurture them into tomorrow’s leaders.

We currently primarily focus on supporting and nurturing the leadership of Transgender women of color living in the U.S. South.” She has won multiple awards for her activism and has been featured in multiple films. She has made a change in the lives of many women and laid the path for us to take action!

Continue Reading:

Current Event: Federal Challenges to Transgender Rights

Supporting gender-affirming health care, transgender athletes, and the freedom to learn about LGBTQ+ history in school has become all the more important in the last year. 2021 introduced a record number of anti-trans legislation, with more than 250 proposed bills, many of which targeted trans youth in particular. In attempts to eliminate unfair “advantages” in sports, trans girls and women have been especially threatened by laws in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee that prohibit trans athletes from playing in teams that align with their gender identities. The Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act would criminalize gender-affirming health care for minors when it had previously been at the discretion of youth and their guardians. Lack of access makes more trans youth vulnerable to compromised mental health and does not allow them to fully participate in society. The Equality Act does still provide a sense of hope on a federal level. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is currently up to the Senate to approve this bill, and if this is the case, President Biden’s previous statements on the issue suggest that he would sign it into law.

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Book Review: Black Flamingo

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is a powerful novel written in verse that deals with the intersection of race, gender, religion, expression, and belonging. This book tracks the experiences and growth of Michael Angeli, a mixed-race gay boy with a Greek mother and Jamaican father growing up in London during the 2000s and 2010s. In his early life, Michael enjoys playing with barbies, singing, and dancing, but living in a patriarchal world, he faces homophobia and expectations to exert toxic masculinity. To cope with bullying and help him understand what queerness means to him, especially since he goes to a Catholic school, Michael confides in his friend, Daisy, reads books, performes plays, and, most importantly, writes poetry. Michael comes out to his family and friends, many of whom accept him, and he starts to gain a romantic interest in boys in his school, like many other people his age. After Michael visits his mother’s family in Greece, he becomes increasingly aware of race as part of his identity, especially since he looks different from much of his family growing up with a white mom, sister, and friend. Going into college, Michael hopes to continue exploring his identity by joining the African and Caribbean, Greek Cypriot, and LGBTQ+ societies in his university in Brighton. However, as a multiracial person that feels he has not explored his queerness enough especially in terms of gender, he faces ostracization in all these societies, struggling to find a sense of belonging. Given his passion for performance and drama, his university’s Drag society immediately catches his eye. Here, Michael is able to truly explore who he is, embracing his many identifiers and finding a place to belong as the Black Flamingo.

We appreciate Atta’s blatant honesty, educational monologues, and beautiful poetry in this novel. The way the book eloquently explores essential themes of intimacy, growth, internalized racism and homophobia through a series of poems is incredible! We definitely recommend everyone interested in intersectionality to read this book, especially since we plans to hold an open book club where we will discuss some passages and essential themes in The Black Flamingo.

Click to Read:

More Resources to Educate Yourself and Take Action

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