Eight Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Have and Will Continue to Shape Our History
As we continue to celebrate pride month and everyone who has and continues to make a difference for our community. We start to understand the common struggles draped in our history and the similar themes we’ve faced. But additionally ones that we continue to face head on. Themes of inequality, sexism, racism and downright vile behaviour has always been spewed our way.
Despite it all though the strongest have continuously risen and lent a hand to those who could not find the courage or the strength to do it themselves. We’ve fought for each other, cried for each other and won countless times together. And through it all, we continue to forge one of the strongest communities on earth.
It’s important to reflect on all our feats thus far and to celebrate the ones who have and continue to make a difference, just as it’s important to encourage and celebrate the ones learning to love and accept themselves in private. We’ve all been given this unique perspective on life – a gift as you will and it’s important to let that shine through.
Here we continue to explore black trailblazers who have projected a giant spotlight on the issues that pertain to us on a daily basis. Here are four more icons that we are so proud to highlight.
Lena was born in Chicago in 1984. She knew from a very young age that all she wanted to do when she grew up was to write for television. After completing her secondary education, she pursued a degree in cinema and television arts.
While in school she held a job at blockbuster in order to get closer to the source material. Upon graduation she decided to transfer to a branch based in Los Angeles in order to be closer to where an inevitable career may begin. She landed a gig as an assistant on the sitcom Girlfriends as well as a few acting roles, which allowed her to cut her teeth in various departments. Down the line she was able to earn a spot writing for the hit series Bones, which opened a few doors in its wake – specifically one at Netflix, where she got to write for Dear White People and star alongside Aziz Ansari in the hit Masters of None.
The latter garnered her worldwide recognition, and she was able to creatively navigate her career with respect and freedom. She used the opportunity to write and produce The Chi for Showtime, which explored the coming of age of kids in Chicago. With themes that were somewhat autobiographical to her own experiences growing up.
Furthermore, she was able to produce her show Twenties, which she had written a pilot for, many years prior. Lena continues to shine whilst building up people around her. While not afraid to stand in her truth and tell relatable stories, with strong well-rounded characters. These skills have earned her Emmy wins and nominations including one for outstanding writing in a series – and an episode that recounted her own coming out story through the lens of the character she was playing on the show.
We need people like her in our court, someone who will stand by us and tell our story unapologetically even if it’s not always easy to digest.
RuPaul‘’ If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’’
We all know and love RuPaul. We watch his show, take in his affirmations, and we get inspired by pretty much anything he does. This big personality has lived an envious life. While not without his fair share of problems. Ru has managed to continuously rise above and prop up those around him in the process.
In his early twenties he graduated with a degree in performing arts in Atlanta. He quickly made the move to New York city after graduation, where he became a fixture of the budding LGBTQ+ club scene. He started to perform in drag and released his famed hit song Supermodel, which was also featured on his debut album in 1993.
Following this feat, he was appointed the spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics, who had just started their AIDS fund campaign. After garnering mainstream recognition from the campaign VH1 decided to give him his own talk show as well as a radio show that he co-hosted with Michelle Visage. While appearing on TV he continued to build up on his passion for the performing arts. Releasing over 14 musical projects and appearing in at least 20 films and tv shows.
This brings us to 2009, when VH1 gave him the rights to produce his own reality competition series. The little show known as Ru Paul’s Drag Race, which has spawned several spin-offs with iterations all over the world. The show became a massive hit and still is to this day. He helped foster a safe space for his contestants whilst celebrating our history and culture at the same time.
Munroe was born in 1987 and spent most of her childhood in Essex. She attended an all-boys school and later studied at the university of Brighton, which propelled her career in fashion and PR. She started her transition at the age of 24 and subsequently opened her very own nightclub which she co-owned, called Pussy Palace.
She started modelling when frustration arose in regard to the lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry, especially for black women, let alone transgender women. She started to use herself made platform to speak out on various issues surrounding the transgender community, garnering the attention of higher ups in the industry. She would not allow her voice to be drowned out in any instance.
Down the line she was appointed as the first transgender model as the face of a L’Oreal campaign. A massive milestone that was unfortunately tainted. She had always been very vocal when it came to issues regarding white supremacy, privilege and the notion that white peers were brought up with racist tendencies. Unfortunately, this claim ruffled a few feathers, especially after a disgraceful media outlet wrote about the claims in a manner that was taken out of context.
This created a firestorm, and she was unfortunately dropped from the campaign. This did not stop her though – if anything it added fuel to her fire. People quickly started to realise that this was not a topic to be shunned for bringing up nor one we could sweep under the rug. Other beauty companies used the opportunity to partner with her and give her the platform she deserved, in order to continue the conversation.
L’Oreal came around three years later and appointed her a seat at their Inclusion Advisory Board table. To this day Munroe treks on, in a mission to abolish transphobia whilst creating a drastically more inclusive world.
Linda started her life in 1950, born in London to a Polish Jewish mother and a Nigerian father. Her dad had moved to the UK from Uzebba to join the navy during the second world war.
She had a strong, healthy upbringing and a good education which concluded with her completion of her degree from the university of Sussex in 1981. After school, she joined a feminist collective called Spare Rib.
The organisation held routine key notes and published a magazine that was in circulation until 1993. Their mission statement included lines such as ‘’ the concept of women’s liberation is widely misunderstood, feared and ridiculed. Many women remain isolated and unhappy. We want to publish spare rib to try to change this.’’
Issues often included topics in regard to sexual health, equality, racism and eating disorders. There were often heated debates within the collective as well, mainly in regards to racism and sexuality. Something that Linda was very passionate about, as they were parallel to her identity and she was the only one in the collective who wasn’t solely white.
She would often argue that in order for inclusion to truly live up to its expectations, women’s issues had to take into account, social class, disability, sexual identity and religion – an approach that was quickly rebuffed at the time. Despite being called a ‘’Looney Leftist’’ she prevailed, and her ideologies became mainstream down the line.
She carried on despite all of this and it allowed her to forge her own path while educating others in the process. She joined the Labour party in 1985 and was quickly elected as councillor for the Lambeth London Borough, making her the second black woman to be appointed to this role. She held various roles in politics for several years until 1989.
Treasurer of the Africa reparation movement, cochair of the southward LGBTQ+ network and advisor to Southwark council were all titles that she proudly and successfully held throughout her career. She was awarded an OBE for her dedication to diversity.
Such services included working alongside the British army and the metro police service in the equality divisions, as well as founding The Institute of equality and diversity practitioners. Linda now lives in Norwich with her partner Caroline.
Amazing trail blazers have helped pave the way for us in ways that we may not even realise yet. Their unapologetic tendencies, their loud voices and their call to action have helped shape our history and the world that we are able to thrive in today.
Lots of work still needs to be done and we need to continue showing up for ourselves and others and keep up the fight.
Hopefully in reading this piece it will have sparked a little fire in you to help do your part and to be prideful of our community, all that we’ve done and what we will continue to do, beyond the month of June.
Written by: Andrew Du Beau (@andrew_dubeau/Instagram)