Contributing Author: Jeanette Hamilton
On Wednesday, February 28, Triangle Community Center (TCC) hosted an open mic night at Troupe 429. To keep the momentum going beyond Black History month and to give a platform to queer artists of color as a tribute to the historic accomplishments throughout black history, this open mic night had a special focus on queer and trans people of color (sometimes abbreviated as QPOC or QTPOC), although anyone was welcome to perform.
The night was full of drag, comedy, music, and poetry and story readings. The two hosts, Robin Fiercè and Hazel Berry, lit up the stage with their own performances at the beginning and end of the showcase. The various artists who participated made the crowd go wild as well.
In the effort to keep visibility on the historical accomplishments of LGBTQ black people, let's look back at some. . .
Black LGBTQ History
Marsha P Johnson
Johnson was one of the biggest activists in, as she called it, the gay liberation movement. She was a performer at the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the United States’ LGBTQ rights movement. Johnson worked with Sylvia Rivera to form the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). STAR’s purpose was to advocate for homeless and runaway gender non-conforming people. Johnson and Rivera opened the STAR house as a shelter for that population.
Bayard Rustin was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right hand man throughout the Civil Rights movement and was openly gay. King was reportedly accepting of Rustin, and Rustin was a huge reason the movement was possible, being involved every step of the way. He also participated in gay rights activism in the 1980s, giving speeches and writing essays to advocate for gay rights.
Josephine Baker was also involved in the Civil Rights movement. Although she lived in France, Baker was an American. When she was invited to perform in the United States, she refused to do so for segregated audiences. Baker is said to have had intimate relationships with several other female artists.
Langston Hughes is a name most would consider synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was never openly gay, Hughes did write on the subject of homosexuality in “Blessed Assurance,” and was rumored to have had a male lover. His primary biographer, Arnold Rampersad, notes Hughes’ appreciation of black men in his work, but asserts that Hughes was likely asexual.
History in the Making
Wanda Sykes is a comedian, actress, and writer who publicly came out as a lesbian in 2008. She has been called one of the 25 funniest people in America by Entertainment weekly. Since coming out, Sykes has been involved in activism for same-gender marriage and has gotten married herself.
Patrisse Cullors is another black and queer artist living today, but she is also one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. The BLM movement started with a hashtag campaign in 2013 and has since grown into an active political movement with over 40 chapters. Cullors’s art mostly consists of performance art.
Janelle Monae is a singer-songwriter and rapper, among several other titles, who has, throughout her career, shown interest in and appreciation for androgyny. In late February of 2018, Monae released a music video for her song “Make Me Feel,” in which she shows interest in both a man and a woman. She is rumored to be dating actress Tessa Thompson, although these rumors remain unconfirmed.