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October 24, 2023

Ten QTBIPOC Leaders to Celebrate This LGBTQIA+ History Month

October is LGBTQIA+ History Month!

Founded as "Gay and Lesbian History Month" in 1994 by Missouri high-school history teacher Rodney Wilson, LGBTQIA+ History Month offers opportunities for reflection and celebration.

McKinsey & Company estimates that roughly 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as trans, and Gallup polling reports that over 7% of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQIAP2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, TransgenderQueerIntersexAsexualPansexualTwo-Spirit, and other diverse gender orientations and sexualities.) Chances are, either you or someone you know is personally celebrating LGBTQIA+ History Month.

This October, I’m inviting you to join me in specifically celebrating QTBIPOC communities.  

What Does QTBIPOC Mean?

When we celebrate the LGBTQIAP2S+ community, we can use an intersectional lens in championing Queer and Trans Black and Indigenous People of Color. QTBIPOC communities include Black and African American LGBTQIA+ folks, those who are Hispanic and Latine and LGBTQIA+, and Indigenous Queer and Trans communities.

Essentially, "QTBIPOC” refers to anybody of the global majority, meaning those who are of color and are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual, asexual, pansexual, two-spirit, and so forth.   Across the globe, Black and Indigenous cultures have long understood and experienced gender beyond the Western binary. Many of these cultures have significantly been impacted by imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy, widely erasing Indigenous understandings of gender. 

Despite centuries of thriving cultural, political, social, and economic contributions, QTBIPOC communities face widespread systemic oppression.   

The lasting impacts of colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, xenophobia, and other inequities have created economic, political, and healthcare systems wherein Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ communities are left out of critical conversations.

In an effort to celebrate QTBIPOC individuals this LGBTQIA+ History Month, I invite you to learn more about the ten icons, advocates, and leaders below.  

1.) We'wha

We'wha, the Zuni lhamana.

We'wha (1849-1896) was a prominent figure in the Zuni Native American community, known for their unique role as a lhamana, a traditional Zuni term for individuals who combined elements of both male and female genders. As a respected lhamana, We'wha played a significant cultural and spiritual role in Zuni society, serving as a mediator, artisan, and ambassador. In 1886, they visited Washington, D.C., drawing national attention and praise for their cultural and sociopolitical contributions.

2.) Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a remarkable civil rights activist known for his advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and racial equity. As an openly gay man in a time when such disclosure carried immense social stigma, Rustin faced discrimination, but he remained resolute in his pursuit of justice. He played a pivotal role in organizing the historic 1963 March on Washington. Rustin's courage and contributions to both civil rights and LGBTQ+ visibility continue to inspire generations.

3.) James Baldwin

James Baldwin

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a groundbreaking Black American writer and essayist who fearlessly explored themes of race, identity, and sexuality. While not exclusively defined by his sexuality, Baldwin was openly gay at a time when it was particularly challenging to do so. His works like "Giovanni's Room" and "Another Country" delved into LGBTQIA+ experiences and the complexities of desire. Baldwin's unapologetic embrace of his own identity and his powerful literary voice made him a prominent figure in both the civil rights movement and the LGBTQIA+ rights movement.

4.) Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was a pioneering transgender activist and prominent figure in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. As a Black transgender woman, she faced intersecting challenges of racism and transphobia. Marsha played a vital role in the early LGBTQIA+ advocacy efforts, notably as a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Her activism was instrumental in advancing transgender rights. Marsha's legacy endures as an emblem of resilience and the ongoing fight for equality, particularly for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. By the way, the "P" stands for "Pay It No Mind!"

5.) Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) was a Puerto Rican and Venezuelan American LGBTQIA+ rights activist. Alongside Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization providing housing and emergency services to LGBTQIA+ youth and communities of the day across New York City. Rivera lived in New York, where she led advocacy efforts until her death in 2002. Sylvia Rivera is a Hispanic American and LGBTQIA+ Civil Rights icon, and we are indebted to her service.

6.) Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a groundbreaking writer, feminist, and LGBTQIA+ activist. A self-identified “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde's work explored the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Her poetry and essays, including "Sister Outsider" and "The Cancer Journals," passionately addressed social issues and the importance of self-acceptance. Lorde's fearless embrace of her identity and her commitment to intersectional feminism left an enduring mark on both literature and activism. She remains an icon for those seeking empowerment and social change, advocating for the rights and voices of LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially women, within broader civil rights and feminist movements. 

7.) Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is a pioneering transgender actress, activist, and producer, known for her groundbreaking role in the TV series "Orange Is the New Black." As a Black trans woman, she has used her platform to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and transgender visibility. In 2014, Cox graced the cover of TIME magazine, a historic moment that marked a significant shift in trans representation in mainstream media. Her prominence in the entertainment industry and her advocacy work continue to challenge stereotypes and promote acceptance, making her an influential figure in the ongoing fight for gender equality and representation. 

8.) Mauree Turner

Mauree Turner

Mauree Turner is a political figure and LGBTQIA+ activist. Turner made history in 2020 by becoming the first non-binary state legislator in the United States and the first Muslim elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature. Turner's advocacy focuses on issues of racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, and religious freedom. Their remarkable achievement serves as a testament to the increasing diversity and inclusivity within American politics. Mauree Turner continues to be a trailblazer and a vital voice for marginalized communities, promoting equity and social change in their home state of Oklahoma and beyond. 

9.) Bamby Salcedo

Bamby Salcedo is a renowned transgender activist, speaker, and community organizer. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, she founded the TransLatin@ Coalition, a nationally recognized California-based organization dedicated to addressing the unique challenges faced by transgender Latine individuals. Her work has focused on issues like healthcare access, immigration reform, and HIV prevention. Salcedo's unwavering commitment to intersectional activism has made her a powerful force in advocating for the rights and well-being of transgender communities.

10.) Laphonza Butler

Laphonza Butler (left)

Laphonza Butler is a prominent labor leader and social justice advocate. Born in 1979, she rose to prominence as a champion for workers' rights and economic justice. Her work has focused on improving the working conditions, wages, and benefits of low-wage and essential workers, as well as advocating for immigrant rights. Butler made history by becoming the first openly Black lesbian woman appointed to Congress. She is currently the only Black woman serving in the Senate, and the third ever to serve in the chamber.

LGBTQIA+ History Month is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the diverse histories and contributions of Queer and Trans communities. This month serves as a reminder that LGBTQIA+ individuals have played vital roles in shaping society, culture, and activism, often in the face of discrimination and adversity.

By highlighting the experiences of QTBIPOC communities and recognizing the significant figures who have paved the way for LGBTQIA+ rights and visibility, we can honor their resilience and continue the fight for equality, acceptance, and justice for all.

This month, let us remember, celebrate, and stand in solidarity with QTBIPOC communities.  

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Raven Solomon

Raven is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Speaker, Author, & Strategist who helps organizations understand generations, racial equity, and their intersection.

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