Name: Ruth Ellis
Distinction: Was an African-American woman who became widely known as the oldest surviving open lesbian, and LGBT rights activist at the age of 100
Brief History: Her parents were born in the last years of slavery in Tennessee. Ellis’ mother died when she was a teen. She came out as a lesbian around 1915, and graduated from Springfield High School in 1919, at a time when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. They moved together to Detroit, Michigan in 1937 where Ellis became the first American woman to own a printing business in that city. Throughout her life, Ellis was an advocate of the rights of gays and lesbians, and of African Americans. She died in her sleep at her home.
Importance: For those who think this struggle is new or someone the LGBT community materialized out of thin air twenty years ago, please check this woman out.
Name: Frank Ocean
Distinction: An American singer, songwriter and rapper. Ocean started his career as a ghostwriter for artists such as John Legend, Justin Bieber, and Brandy.
Brief History: A member of alternative hip hop collective OFWGKTA also known as Odd Future, his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was released to critical acclaim in 2011. Ocean became one of the first major African-American music artists to announce that he had once fallen in love with someone of the same sex.
Importance: Major, popular figures coming out into the public eye is important for representation and acceptance. His bravery will be remembered as a bedrock in the future.
Name: Wanda Sykes
Distinction: An American comedian, writer, actress, and voice artist.
Brief History: She earned the 1999 Emmy Award for her writing on The Chris Rock Show. In 2004, Entertainment Weekly named Sykes as one of the 25 funniest people in America. Sykes has publicly expressed being devastated after California voters passed state Proposition 8. She said: “with the legislation that they passed, I can’t sit by and just watch. I just can’t do it.” She has continued to be active in same-sex marriage issues hosting events and emceeing fundraisers.
Importance: She has a platform and she uses it. Social justice has to be the business of everyone.
Name: Langston Hughes
Distinction: One of the greatest poets of the 20th century hands down. He wrote countless works of poetry, prose and plays throughout his life. After spending some time in Mexico, he became a part of the roaring literary movement known as The Harlem Renaissance. He was among the first to incorporate jazz rhythms and dialect into poetry. Langston lived a global life and brought the issues facing urban blacks at the time to a global stage.
Importance: Along with Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes is one of my personal heroes when it comes to writing and just life period. Langston Hughes is another symbol of what we can achieve despite diversity. His accomplishments are many and he was never afraid to take on life. I think there’s a certain character and courage to this man that should inspire us. He wrote with complete honesty about race in a time when such honesty could very well get you killed.
Name: RuPaul Andre Charles
Distinction: A huge figure in the LGBT community, particularly on the drag scene.
Brief History: Born in San Diego, RuPaul moved to Atlanta at a young age and the city would see the launch of a long and stories career. RuPaul achieved international fame as a drag queen with the hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)” and later dueted with Elton John on the song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. RuPaul has written books, been in movies, had a talk show and most recently has been at the helm of a reality show.
Importance: I’ve haven’t heard this term applied to RuPaul, but it should be; mogul. And I think having people with that kind of versatility and power in the open does nothing but help the wider community.
Name: B.T. Jones
Distinction: An American artistic director, choreographer and dancer. Jones has received numerous awards for his work.
Brief History: Jones choreographed and performed worldwide as a soloist and duet company with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. Creating more than 100 works for his own company, Jones has also choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, AXIS Dance Company, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, Berlin Opera Ballet and Diversions Dance Company, among others.
Importance: Art is how you change hearts and minds. I think the LGBT community’s involvement in pop culture is one of the ways it has successfully maneuvered itself into the mainstream.
Name: Angela Davis
Distinction: A major revolutionary and counter culture figure in the 60s.
Brief History: Angela Davis is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Her interests included prisoner rights; she founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex.
Importance: Free thinkers like her are always necessary in society. We have to be willing to challenge boundaries as a society.
Name: Perry Watkins
Distinction: Perry Watkins was an African-American gay man and one of the first service members to challenge the ban against homosexuals in the United States military Continue reading “LGBT Month: POC Edition Day Twenty- Five (The Catch Up)”
Name: Robin Roberts
Distinction: A major media figure beloved by the public
Brief History: A native of Mississippi, Robin started her storied career in broadcasting in 1983 at a local affiliate. She went on to report for both ESPN and famously for Good Morning America. In 2012 she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame for all of her work for the sport through her broadcasting influence. We all know the story of her cancer and how she bravely faced it in the public eye. This year she was named as one of 31 Icons for LGBT History Month by the Equality Forum.
Importance: So often, the marginalized have their humanity taken from them. They are made in spectacles and stereotypes. People with the kind of heart and charisma that Robin Roberts possesses smashes through those stereotypes.
Name: Audre Lorde
Distinction: Her work made her a pillar of contemporary feminist thought
Brief History: Might be best to let Lorde describe herself in her own words. She said she was a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. And I think it’s safe to say that she accurately described herself. Her work heavily focused on the themes of revolution and change. Sadly, she battled breast cancer for 14 years but used the experience to produce award winning work.
Importance: People like Audre Lorde exist to smash expectations. They’re here to offer us a different idea of what a person can be.