James Baldwin, the award-winning author, playwright and poet who was also openly gay, once was asked if he thought being “black and gay” put him at a disadvantage as a young, aspiring writer. He responded, “No, I thought I had hit the jackpot.”
For America’s black LGBTQ elected officials, hitting the jackpot matches many of their realities. There are now 56 black LGBTQ individuals serving in state, local and judicial offices throughout the United States.
This month, Victory Institute is honoring their contributions and celebrating their history-making journeys. For many of them, Black History Month is a chance to reflect on what it means to serve in public life in this moment in our nation’s history.
Here is what they had to say:
- Craig Hickman, State Representative, Maine
“As the first openly gay African American elected to the Maine Legislature, the first African American elected four times to the Maine Legislature, the first African American to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Maine House of Representatives, and the first African American chair of a legislative committee in Maine’s 200 year history—three black men and one black woman have been elected to the Maine Legislature—a state that seceded from Massachusetts and entered the Union in 1820, a free state as part of the Missouri Compromise; as a black organic farmer representing a 99.9% white, conservative district in rural Maine, the nation’s whitest state, a district which includes my town of Winthrop, a town which, until 1973, included a place on the map named N*gger Hill (the Underground Railroad ran through there—my house, which still has hiding places below the cistern in my basement, was a stop on the Underground Railroad), I often have to pinch myself to check that the good people of Winthrop, Readfield, and a part of North Monmouth at the foot of Appalachian Mt. Pisgah, would choose me, a black gay man “from away’—I hail from Milwaukee—to be their voice and their vote in the Maine House of Representatives. In these times–or any other–I feel as though I am living a miracle.”
- Lamont Robinson, State Representative, Illinois
“As the first African American LGBTQ elected official in the State of Illinois, Black History Month gives means that I again get the opportunity to thank Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Lorraine Hansberry, Barbara Jordan, Joan Jett Blakk and Bayard Rustin for allowing me the opportunity to stand on their shoulders. In this time of despair, bigotry and hatred, it reaffirms my mission to serve and be an example for others in the Black LGBTQ community to be a beacon of hope.”
- Shanell Williams, President, City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees
“I am excited to begin Black History Month this year as President of the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees. It is critically important at this time, with the state of our nation’s administration, that we celebrate the rich diversity of who we are. I am honored to be a public servant that represents for the LGBTQ community, Black community, women and labor.”
- Justin Gould, City Council Member, University Heights, Ohio
“Serving in this season is an opportunity to resist the erosion of our rights, remain active in leading our communities and replenish our hope for better days ahead. From segregation-era sit-ins, to ActUp die-ins, today’s queer black leaders have learned that there is power in our presence in spaces that were not build with us in mind. This month, as always, I am grateful for the chance I have to help make those spaces more inclusive of us all.”
- Vernetta Alston, City Council Member, Durham, North Carolina
“Black History Month is a time to lift up courageous moments in our history that impact all of our lives, honor the sacrifices of Black people that often go overlooked, commit ourselves to transforming systems that were not designed for us or our children, fight for access to opportunity and celebrate our unique strength and community.”
- Sändra J Washington, City Council Member, Lincoln, Nebraska
“Black History Month is like a spotlight and a camera lens, bringing light to the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s history and documenting the ways in which African Americans are still questing for equality and justice. As an amateur historian, I relish the fact that journalists spend time searching for stories about Black lives in America. I use this month to remind people that Black history is American history, and history is the interrelated weave of many, many stories. And if we want people to know we were here, it is our job to speak up and tell the truth of our existence.”
- Tyller Williamson, City Council Member, Monterey, California
“Black History Month is the opportunity to observe the influence of African Americans in the United States; recognizing the challenges, but also highlighting the contributions we make to our society. It’s also a space to educate younger generations on what we’ve gone through and all the work still ahead.
“Many of the constituents I work with on a daily basis see Tyller, not a gay, black elected official. Not even a decade ago would I have ever imagined this to be possible. Despite this progress, there’s still much work to be done to ensure equal rights for all!”
There are 56 black LGBTQ elected officials currently serving throughout the United States. To view them all, please visit outforamerica.org.