Many unsung Black heroes have shaped American history by claiming their space as queer activists, politicians, humanitarians, doctors, lawyers, educators, and more. In an America that, no doubt, reinforced their inferiority and questioned their right to live free of oppression, many of these individuals persisted, prevailed and paved the way for many marginalized communities to demand equality. These brave individuals celebrated their sexuality, gender identity and expression despite what society may have told them. In fact, the bravery and prowess of icons like Marsha P. Johnson are inextricably tied to the dawn of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Their contributions are even more important today as new generations of queer youth look to find themselves represented and succeeding despite the odds. The reason we take the time to recognize these individuals is not for their benefit, but for the validation that we exist, that we matter and that we too can live in our greatness.
Back in 2010, I happened upon the story of Bayard Rustin while surfing TV. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin introduced the personal and professional life of a gay activist leader in the African American and LGBTQ civil rights movements. Rustin served as a trusted advisor to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was a key architect of the 1963 March on Washington. Despite his valiant efforts during this time, Rustin was not properly recognized for his mark on history as a result of being openly gay. However, in 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was not celebrated during his life, and President Obama said, “No medal can change that, but today we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march toward true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.” The contributions that Rustin made, as an openly gay man, provide a source of strength and example for today’s youth, especially those Black gay boys who are so often taught to hide parts of themselves that may not be considered traditionally masculine.
I love revisiting the lives of history makers like Marsha P. Johnson and Bayard Rustin. But what I love even more is the modern-day contributions of Black queer leaders who are rising to new heights of recognition and success, driven by a commitment to impact the world in a positive and lasting manner.
People like Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, an American political campaign organizer, activist, political commentator, and author. Jean-Pierre is a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology and received her MPA from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. She recently served as chief of staff for Vice President Kamala Harris’ vice presidential campaign and is now a member of the Biden administration — making her the second Black woman and the first lesbian to speak at a White House briefing. This sister is shattering the glass ceiling, and I’m here for it!
Duane Elliott Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of Just Health Collective, LLC. Through the Just Health Collective Village online community, Just Health Collective guides organizations in creating cultures of belonging, enabling a fair and just opportunity for everyone to achieve optimal health. For more information, please email email@example.com or visit www.justhealthcollective.com.