Black History Month: 10 Black Queer Trailblazers You Should Know

Every February, Black History Month serves as a reminder to pay homage to Black politicians, activists, artists and more who have paved the way for civil rights movements. This year, Victory Institute highlighted a different Black LGBTQ trailblazer each day of Black History Month, from both past and present, who have made history in the fight for equality around the world on social media. Check out our Black History Month series on Instagram for more stories like these.

1. Marsha P. Johnson

A foundational leader in Stonewall and following LGBTQ activist movements, Marsha P. Johnson helped to found the Gay Liberation Front in 1969. She later co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) to provide resources, support, and housing for gay, trans, and gender non-conforming people in New York.

2. Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin’s life of advocacy led him to become an integral organizer of the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, the first Freedom Ride. He later was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington, and later, advised the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Rustin is remembered as the most prominent out gay man in the Civil Rights Movement.

3. Keith St. John

In 1989, Keith St. John became the first out gay Black person elected to public office after winning his race for Common Council of Albany. Since leaving office in 1998, St. John has remained active in New York political and legal circles. He currently serves as Director of Ethics at the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

4. Deborah Batts

In 1994, Deborah Batts became the first out gay federal judge in U.S. history when she was sworn in to serve the Southern District of New York after being appointed by President Clinton. During her 18-year career as a federal judge, Batts presided over high-profile terrorism and corruption cases and served as a mentor to many young lawyers. Judge Batts passed away in February 2020.

5. Mondaire Jones

In 2020, voters in New York’s 17th District elected Mondaire Jones to the US House of Representatives, making him one of the first two openly Black LGBTQ members of Congress. Since his election, he has been working to provide COVID-19 relief and end student loan debt. Prior to his election, Mondaire worked at the Justice Department during the Obama administration before joining Westchester County’s legal department.

6. Ritchie Torres

Representing New York’s 15th District in the U.S. House, Ritchie Torres joins Mondaire Jones as one of the first two openly LGBTQ Black members of Congress in 2020 and makes history as the first openly gay Afro-Latino in Congress. Previously to his election, Torres served as the youngest member of the New York City Council. He is currently one of the nine co-chairs of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Committee and Freshman Crescendo Representative.

7. Andrea Jenkins

The first openly transgender Black woman ever elected to public office in the U.S., Andrea Jenkins has served on the Minneapolis City Council since 2018. Jenkins currently serves as the City Council’s Vice President. Before seeking public office, Jenkins worked as a policy aide and is also an acclaimed poet.

8. Kylar Broadus

Kylar Broadus is a Black trans activist, lawyer, author, and professor. Throughout his career, he has worked with numerous organizations and government bodies pushing for LGBTQ equality. Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition and serves on the board of the National Black Justice Coalition. He made history as the first transgender person to testify before the United States Senate, speaking in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2012.

9. Marielle Franco

A politician, sociologist, feminist, and human rights activist, Marielle Franco was a key leader of human rights movements in Brazil. Throughout her career, she worked for multiple civil society organizations and served as one of the only openly Black LGBTQ members on the Rio de Janeiro City Council, where she chaired the Women’s Defense Council. After forcefully speaking against police violence and corruption, Franco was assassinated by two police officers in 2018, sparking an international outcry and a renewed focus on human rights in Brazil.

10. Simone Bell

Simone Bell served in Georgia’s House of Representatives from 2009 to 2015 and was the first Black lesbian to serve in any state legislature in the country. Following the end of her term in office, she continued pushing for LGBTQ equality as Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Director.

Check out our Black History Month series on Instagram for more stories like these.