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Prominent Black Lesbians + Their Contributions to History

Knowing your history is powerful. It allows us to understand our past, our present circumstances and also helps to provide and create identity. The Black community and the lesbian community are two groups that have been constantly marginalized, yet have continued to fight for rights and respect throughout history. Black lesbians are a triple minority standing at the intersection of Black, womxn and lesbian (and masculine Black lesbians a quadruple minority). From simply being ourselves and conquering goals to literally fighting, the Black lesbian community has always stood tall. We have been brave and unyielding and we should be proud. Here are six Black lesbians that you should know about.

Storme DeLarverie

Storme DeLarverie (1920-2014) was a masculine lesbian and gay rights activist. DeLarverie is known for igniting the Stonewall riots in New York City the summer of 1969. She was born and raised in New Orleans, LA, to a Black mother and white father, when her parents married the family moved to California. In her teens she spent time touring, singing and performing as a woman and then as a man (see the two background pictures in the first photo). Later, DeLarverie was employed as a bouncer, armed with a gun and explained that she fought “ugly” which for her meant bias of any type.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) has described herself as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Lorde was born and raised in Harlem. She wrote her first poem in the eighth grade and in high school had her first poem published in Seventeen magazine. Lorde received a BA from Hunter College and a MLS from Columbia University. She worked as a librarian and was active in New York gay culture. Lorde’s most notable works of art are: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Sister Outsider.

Gladys Bentley

Gladys Bentley (1907-1960) was known as “Harlem’s most famous lesbian” and “among the best-known black entertainers" in the United States. A gender-bender performer during the Harlem Renaissance and the 1930s, Gladys would regularly perform in Harlem establishments like the Clam House and the Ubangi Club where she would sing the blues in a top hat and tuxedo.

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was a civil rights leader and attorney who became the first African American elected to the Texas Senate in 1966, and the first woman and first African American elected to congress from Texas in 1972. Growing up in a rural neighborhood outside of Houston, Texas, Jordan found her love for politics in highschool, where she became an award-winning debater. Starting her career campaigning for John F. Kennedy’s presidential bid, Jordan went out to sponsor and co-sponsor more than 70 bills, most of which were in support of services for minorities and the underprivileged. For her change and innovation while in office, Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Bill Clinton in 1994. And even though Jordan never publicly came out, she was very open about her relationship with life partner of 30 years, Nancy Earl.

Cheryl Clarke

Cheryl Clarke (1927-) was born in Washington DC, and is lesbian poet, essayist, educator and a Black feminist community activist. Clarke received a B.A. from Howard University and an M.A., M.S.W., and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Her books of poetry include By My Precise Haircut (The Word Works Press, 2016); Experimental Love (Firebrand Books, 1993), which was nominated for a 1994 Lambda Literary Award; Humid Pitch (1989); Living as a Lesbian (1986); and Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (1983). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including The Black Scholar, The Kenyon Review, Belles Lettres, The World in Us: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Poetry, and Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader (1992). Though retired from her work in higher education, Clarke maintains a teaching affiliation with the Graduate Faculty of the Department of Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers; and owns a used and rare bookstore in Hobart, NY called Blenheim Hill Books. She is also the co-organizer of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers, which is held annually in Hobart, New York, where she lives with her life partner, Barbara Balliet.

Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot (born 1962) is currently Chicago’s first Black female mayor (democrat) and the city’s first openly LGBTQ+ mayor. Lightfoot was born in Ohio, received her bachelor's degree from University of Michigan and Juris Doctor degree from University of Chicago. Prior to becoming Chicago’s 56th mayor, Lightfoot had a successful career in law and city government holding positions such as Assistant United States Attorney, Chief Administrator of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards and president of the Chicago Police Board. Lightfoot, wife, Amy Eshleman and daughter Vivan reside in Logan’s Square on Chicago’s North Side.

Written by: Ashley Clark


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