Essex Hemphill (Screen capture via YouTube)

Centering Black Figures This LGBTQ History Month

LGBTQ History Month is commemorated annually both nationally and globally each October. It is a critical tool to honor, share, and teach Black queer history, as it’s rarely included in academic curricula, cultural organizations, or institutional priorities.

There are many reasons why this continues to occur. However, as a Black queer educator who works and is an alumnus of an HBCU, it’s critical to name the erasure and invisibility of Black LGBTQ historical figures who attended and worked at our D.C. Black institutions. Washington, D.C., is considered one of the best places for LGBTQ people to live. But which people are we talking about? Are Black and Brown people centered in that narrative? Are working-class queer folks centered in that narrative?

For far too long, institutions and organizations have erased the contributions and plight of LGBTQ people. A critical way to address this problem is to make history accessible and digestible. A litany of people whose names we may never know have significantly contributed to our culture and pushed institutions to be more inclusive and equitable through their existence and work. They deserve recognition and their queer experiences to be centered, not just their accolades.

This is crucial when considering LGBTQ History Month; we can start with one of our own. Essex Hemphill attended the University of the District of Columbia and the University of Maryland and studied English. He is one of the most celebrated Black, openly gay performance poets of his generation and is recognized in LGBTQ communities across the U.S. and abroad. He is best known for his political stance in his work, as he openly addressed race, gender identity, sexual experiences, HIV/AIDS, and the Black family. The UDC Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Affairs (CDIMA) has created a scholarship to support LGBTQ+ students in his honor. It leads an archiving project to restore and amplify his legacy in the DMV by taking our students to the Library of Congress and researching our institution’s archives.

As we commemorate LGBTQ History Month, it’s important to honor our own and take time to learn about their contributions and experiences. This LGBTQ History Month, I challenge you to do a little research of your own. Who are the LGBTQ creatives, artists, educators, and founders in your community? How are you honoring their legacy and sharing it with others?

There’s power in speaking their names and celebrating their memories. HBCUs also have a critical role in leading this archival work. D.C. specifically has a responsibility to amplify the stories of its leaders who lived and worked here in the birthplace of Black LGBTQ Pride, as the nature of its transience, mobility, and cultural organizing in this city is deeply connected to those who have done it before.

“I believe the significance of OUTLOUD Day on HBCU campuses is to promote inclusivity and allow queer identifying folks to live in their truth on HBCU campuses.” — Kee’Manee Carter (Kiburi Scholarship recipient 2023)

“I live OUTLOUD! Living OUTLOUD for me is living in my truth! Live in your truth as well! — Corey Haskett (Kiburi Scholarship recipient 2023)

Trinice Iya Fabunmi McNally is founding director of the UDC Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs.

Story courtesy of the Washington Blade via the National LGBTQ Media Association. The National LGBTQ Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: