Our Histories, Intertwined

Two marginalized groups, two communities forever enmeshed culturally, politically and in the struggle for equality. Award-winning blogger and activist Monica Roberts weighs in on the importance of the perpetual ties that bond the Black and queer communities.

One of the earliest tactics our not-so-esteemed opposition tried to deploy during the fight to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in May 2014 was having Black ministers claim that the LGBTQ community was trying to “hijack the Civil Rights Movement” and its distinguished history. Unfortunately for them, I followed a pastor who tried that argument, and I used my time in front of City Council to gleefully debunk that theory. I called him out for attempting to separate the African-American LGBTQ community from our history, stated we are an undeniable part of the kente cloth fabric, and that Black history is also our shared history as Black LGBTQ people.

I pointed out that if it weren’t for a Black gay man by the name of Bayard Rustin, the 1963 March on Washington wouldn’t have run as smoothly as it did because he was the logistical genius behind it. Rustin was also the originator of the freedom ride concept in 1947 and passed on the ideas of nonviolence he’d learned from visionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Rustin’s Journey of Reconciliation, which tested enforcement of nondiscrimination laws in upper Southern states for interstate bus transportation, was later emulated by the Freedom Rides that started in 1961.

Leffler, Warren K. via Wikicommons

After that day, those Houston ministers never again attempted to use their “hijacking our civil rights movement” attack and switched to pushing the trans “bathroom predator” lie instead.

It irritates me as the child and godchild of historians to hear regurgitations of the falsehood that “Black history and LGBTQ history are not the same,” and the misperception that we in the trans, bi and SGL community are “hijacking” our own storied history of hard-fought activism.

News flash to the people trying to tell that lie: Black LGBTQ people exist. We are, as Dr. King once said, “caught in an inescapable web of mutuality.” We are part of the diverse mosaic of human life—and we aren’t going anywhere.

Black history is also LGBTQ history, with Black LGBTQ people as major players in the queer rights movement. Audre Lorde made that point during her three-minute speech during the 20th-anniversary remembrance of the 1963 March of Washington:

“Today’s march openly joins the Black Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Civil Rights Movement in the struggles we have always shared, the struggle for jobs, for health, for peace and for freedom. We marched in 1963 with Dr. Martin Luther King and dared to dream that freedom would include us, because not one of us is free to choose the terms of our living until all of us are free to choose the terms of our living.”

In the remaining years of her life, Coretta Scott King was a standup ally for the LGBTQ community who tirelessly pointed out the intertwining of Black gay and non-gay people, and how our movements, although having different objectives and focuses at times, were common human rights struggles among those of others. During that same era, James Baldwin was not only a civil rights warrior and thought leader, he was a proud gay man who eviscerated National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. in an October 26, 1965 debate at Cambridge University on the subject “Has The American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?” Just a few months before that Baldwin-Buckley discussion, a group of African-American gender non-conforming kids in Philadelphia were engaged in an ultimately successful sit-in and protest that lasted from April 25 to May 2 at Dewey’s Lunch Counter because of the owner’s stated desire to refuse service to people wearing gender variant attire.

“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”
— Coretta Scott King on homophobia

We are also aware that the modern LGBTQ rights movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who threw the shot glass that triggered the 1969 Stonewall Riots and sparked the LGBTQ rights movement that subsequently grew out of that seminal event. More recently, Black Lives Matter was founded by Black lesbians and has LGBTQ people with major leadership roles active in its chapters spread across the country.

It wasn’t just the Civil Rights Movement in which this ongoing involvement of Black and LGBTQ history occurred and continues to. It happened with Lucy Hicks Anderson, a Black trans woman who was put on trial in California in 1945 for marrying a man after she was outed. It happened when Althea Garrison became the first trans person elected to a state legislature in 1992. It happened when, in 2008, Marisa Richmond became the first Black trans woman to be-come a DNC Delegate as Barack Obama was making some history in Denver himself. It happened when Kylar Broadus became the first trans person to testify in front of the U.S. Senate in 2012 when he did so in favor of ENDA’s passage.

Black history is also happening right now with Amiyah Scott and Laverne Cox starring on their respective shows (“Star” on FOX and the soon-to-debut “Doubt” on CBS), two black trans people playing major trans characters on network TV; with Angelica Ross’s “Her Story” garnering an Emmy nomination; with Janet Mock becoming a New York Times bestselling author. It’s happening with a long list of Black LGBTQ folks breaking barriers in various fields and getting elected to public office. It’s even happening with Black LGBTQ history makers successfully leading organizations, as Aisha Moodie-Mills is doing with the Victory Fund.

While every month is Black History Month as far as I’m concerned, it’s even more important in these times with a hostile administration consolidating its power in Washington, D.C., to recognize how Black LGBTQ people have and will continue to make major contributions to our history. We are not only representing our rainbow flag-waving community; we Black LGBTQ people are, to the best of our ability, living up to the level of excellence our people have always aspired to—and will continually meet and surpass in the years to come. We will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Black History and LGBTQ history are indelibly linked, and we are all an inextricable part of both Black and LGBTQ America.

Monica Roberts is the creator of the award-winning blog TransGriot. Follow her on Twitter: @transgriot