Queer Erasure During Black History Month

It’s the shortest, but definitely the most lit month of the year. It’s Black History Month!

February (which is also my birthday month, I’ll be accepting gifts all month) is the time we set aside to pay extra attention and reverence to the contributions of the folks that built this country, Negros.

From the arts to activism, from innovation to academia, Black people have and continue to achieve new heights in every way possible.

While we take the time to honor all of the many wonderful Black people that have paved the way, broken barrier, fought the power, and pushed the culture forward in one way or another, let’s also honor their queer counterparts in the same fashion.

Too many times queer experiences, contributions, and achievements are left out of the narrative when discussing and teaching Black history.

Their stories are either ignored completely or conveniently half told.

How many times has your Black history lesson included Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr? Or Marlon Riggs, the brilliant filmmaker, educator, activist, storyteller, and Harvard graduate? Or how about Marsha P. Johnson, the trans woman and activist that threw the first brick that popped off the Stonewall riots, and by proxy, the entire gay rights movements?

How many times when discussing Malcolm X do we acknowledge that he was bisexual (edit: I’ve stopped placing a label on Malcolm X that he didn’t identify with while he was living, but the facts are he did have same sex experiences)? Or that George Washington Carver was in a same-sex relationship for the latter part of his life?

How often in school, church, or at formal Black History Month celebrations does sexuality and intersectionality come up? Not that someone’s sexuality defines them in their entirety, but when discussing the likes of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and even Angela Davis, a lot of their work is so widely celebrated because of of their intersectional identities.

You can not, and should not, separate Blackness and queerness when someone is indeed Black and queer, and you really should stop trying.

These and countless others are stories that are hardly shared or half told. The erasure of these stories are not only a disservice to their respective legacies, but also to those actively learning about our history.

I guess I say all of this to say that it is my hope moving forward that we, as a community, will tell more inclusive stories about our history. It is my hope that we stop viewing Black history through a cishet, male perspective and add some heterogeneity to the narrative. For there is a range of Blackness and it’s beautiful and valid and real. 

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