11 Black LGBTQ+ Historical Figures You Should Know

It's important to acknowledge the changemakers who've played critical roles within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community.


We are blessed to live at a time when prominent figures like Janelle Monáe, Janet Mock, RuPaul, Laverne Cox and others have spoken up for those who cannot. But such has not always been the case.


History has remembered the greats like James Baldwin, Little Richard, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde and others, but here are 11 Black LGBTQ+ figures with whom you might not be familiar.

Bruce Nugent

This Harlem Renaissance writer and painter’s short story "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade" has been regarded by many as the first publication by a black person that openly discussed homosexuality

Alvin Ailey

The famed choreographer founded the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Company highlighting the black experience through dance. Ailey was gay and a victim of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

She popularized the use of the electric guitar in the 1930s while big bands were still bopping. After a failed marriage,Tharpe met Marie Knight & had a secret relationship.   

Bessie Smith

As an early jazz and blues recording artist, Smith would often tell the stories of working-class black folks in her music & often discussed female sexuality in her music. 

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was a prominent socialist activist in the civil rights movement who advocated for racial equality, LGBT rights and women's rights.

Moms Mabley

Jackie "Moms" Mabley was the first woman comic to perform at the Apollo. At 27, she came out making her the first comic to be openly gay in the 1920s-30s.

Tracey Norman

Norman, who is the first trans model to make it big, hid her gender for almost 15 years working as a model. She appeared in Essence, Vogue Italia and Harper's Bazaar India. 

Lucy Hicks Anderson

Anderson was the earliest known black transgendered person in the US. She lived as a woman for 60 years until 1945 when the State of California accused her of lying about her gender

Sir Lady Java

Nightclub dancer & trans rights activist Lady Java teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union to lead countless protests and rallies bringing the trans community out of the shadows.

Marsha P. Johnson 

Johnson participated in many protests demanding equality for LGBT people. She cofound the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, Gay Liberation Front & worked with ACT UP.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

She fought for trans and intersex people in the Stonewall uprising in the late ‘60s & is now the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project’s executive director

Many people fought for their rights as queer people and their rights as black people in American society. A month is never enough time to pay tribute to the giants who came before us.