glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

African Americans  
page: 1  2  3  

The Glbtq Rights Movement

Some glbtq African Americans were also involved in the movement during the 1950s and 1960s. But they often did not feel welcome in the predominantly white glbtq organizations, which rarely addressed members' racism and which focused exclusively on glbtq rights, ignoring the multiple struggles of black glbtq people.

One of the few African-American women in the movement, Cleo "Glenn" (Bonner), served as president of the Daughters of Bilitis, the national lesbian organization, from 1963 to 1966. Another leading homophile activist was "Ernestine Eckstein," a black woman in her mid-twenties who participated in some of the first pickets for glbtq rights and who became vice-president of the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis in the mid-1960s.

Sponsor Message.

The more confrontational glbtq organizations that formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), were also primarily white, but they had relatively more African-American members than many homophile groups.

Both GLF and GAA formed affiliated groups specifically for people of color. The New York City GAA chapter, for example, established a Black Lesbian Caucus in 1971; known today as African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, it is reportedly the oldest continuing black glbtq organization in the United States.

Black Glbtq Organizations and Events

Disillusioned by glbtq organizations that were dominated by whites and that frequently failed to address the multiple ways in which glbtq people of color are oppressed, many glbtq African Americans began to organize independent groups in the 1970s.

The Combahee River Collective, a Boston-based black feminist support and activist organization that included a number of out lesbians, was founded in 1974. The group's influential "Black Feminist Statement" demonstrated the importance of addressing the simultaneous, interlocking systems of racism, sexism, , and classism.

A national glbtq movement began in 1978 with the formation of the National Coalition of Black Gays (subsequently renamed the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays). The coalition greatly increased its membership following the first National Third World Gay and Lesbian Conference, held in conjunction with the First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, in 1979. By the mid-1980s, chapters existed in cities across the country, including groups in Chicago, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. However, many chapters could not sustain themselves and folded by the 1990s.

The National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, begun in Los Angeles in 1988, briefly became a national voice for glbtq African Americans, but it too could not garner enough support to last.

More successful have been annual black pride events. The first Black Lesbian and Gay Pride celebration was organized in Washington, D. C. in 1991. As of 2006, black glbtq pride activities are held in more than thirty cities across the United States and in London, England, and Toronto, Canada.

Another important organizing effort in the last few years has been the development of glbtq African-American or glbtq people of color student groups at more than twenty colleges and universities. These organizations are similar to primarily white glbtq student groups in that they provide support, offer social opportunities, and sponsor educational programs, but their activities address the specific racial and cultural needs of glbtq students of color. The schools with active glbtq African-American/people of color organizations tend to be large universities and progressive liberal arts colleges, such as Carleton College, Michigan State University, New York University, the University of California-San Diego, and Swarthmore College.


Although glbtq African Americans often continue to experience racism in predominantly white glbtq organizations and homophobia in ostensibly heterosexual black organizations, some of these groups have begun to acknowledge and take steps to address the multiple oppressions faced by black glbtq people.

The creation of black glbtq groups and events over the last thirty years has also made it easier for many African Americans to develop a positive sense of self that combines their racial identity with their sexual and gender identities. They can see themselves as "complete people," even if the public social, cultural, and political spaces in which they can be wholly themselves remain limited.

Brett Genny Beemyn

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences

   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  African-American and African Diaspora Art

Gay and lesbian artists of the African Diaspora have recently begun to explore issues specific to gender and sexuality; often relying on self-portraiture, they address homophobia and racism as well as desire and longing.

social sciences >> Overview:  Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence

With reports from hundreds of sub-Saharan African locales of male-male sexual relations and from about fifty of female-female sexual relations, it is clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies, though varying in forms and in the degree of public acceptance

literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Gay Male

The African-American gay male literary tradition consists of a substantial body of texts and includes some of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Lesbian

Most African-American lesbian literature is as concerned with racism as it is with sexuality, causing many writers to construct Afrocentric sexual identities that affirm the power of black women.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

literature >> Overview:  The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Passing

Generally defined as seeking or allowing oneself to be identified with a race, class, or other social group to which one does not genuinely belong, passing is a complex and layered issue in queer culture.

literature >> Overview:  Romantic Friendship: Female

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, intimate, exclusive, and often erotic romantic friendships between women were largely perceived as normal and socially acceptable.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

arts >> Bentley, Gladys

African-American Blues singer Gladys Bentley openly flaunted her lesbianism in the 1920s and 1930s, but recanted in the 1950s in an attempt to salvage her career.

social sciences >> Boykin, Keith

Activist and author Keith Boykin has committed his life to advancing the rights of the African-American and glbtq communities and to enhancing communication between them.

social sciences >> Carver, George Washington

Best known for his research on peanuts, agronomist and educator George Washington Carver become a cultural icon as the "Wizard of Tuskegee," but at the cost of hiding his homosexuality.

literature >> Cullen, Countee

Countee Cullen, an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, has coded references to homosexuality in much of his poetry.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.

social sciences >> Ellis, Ruth

Ruth Ellis became an icon of the glbtq community in Detroit, where she lived for most of her life, and an inspiration to many others.

social sciences >> Gay Activists Alliance

An important organization of the early post-Stonewall era, the Gay Activists Alliance, which flourished from 1969 to 1974, strove to give gay men and lesbians visibility in American politics.

social sciences >> Gay Liberation Front

Formed soon after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the short-lived but influential Gay Liberation Front brought a new militancy to the movement that became known as gay liberation.

literature >> Grimké, Angelina Weld

A noted African-American writer from the 1900s through the 1920s, Angelina Weld Grimké fell into obscurity in the 1930s and was only rediscovered in the 1980s; her inability to act on her sexual desires inspired her writing and contributed to her ultimately abandoning it.

literature >> Hughes, Langston

Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.

arts >> Hunter, Alberta

Blues singer, lyricist, and actress Alberta Hunter, one of the top recording artists in the 1920s and 1930s, experienced a dramatic comeback in her old age.

literature >> Locke, Alain

As midwife to the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke played a crucial role in the development of African-American literature; his homosexuality informed his plea for respect of sexual and cultural diversity.

literature >> McKay, Claude

Jamaican-born bisexual African-American poet, novelist, and essayist Claude McKay made compelling contributions to the development of the Harlem Renaissance; in his works, he put forward a revolutionary agenda of racial, class, and sexual liberation.

arts >> Rainey, Gertrude ("Ma")

"Mother of the Blues" Gertrude "Ma" Rainey made no secret of her relationships with women.

social sciences >> Rustin, Bayard

One of the key African-American civil rights activists of the twentieth century, Bayard Rustin and his legacy have long been obscured because of embarrassment over his homosexuality and early involvement in the Communist Party.

literature >> Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)

Bisexual African-American novelist, poet, and performance artist Sapphire came to public attention with works that focus on the harrowing realities of inner city existence.

arts >> Smith, Bessie

Gifted with a powerful voice and sophisticated musical artistry, singer Bessie Smith conducted her life by her own set of rules and had affairs with both men and women.

social sciences >> Walker, A'Lelia

Hostess A'Lelia Walker, the "joy goddess" of the Harlem Renaissance, especially valued the company of black glbtq artists and writers, which gave her gatherings a distinctly gay ambience.

arts >> Waters, Ethel

Perhaps best remembered for her award-winning performances as an actress, Ethel Waters was also a renowned Blues singer, known to have sexual relationships with other women.


Beemyn, Brett. "A Queer Capital: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Life in Washington, D.C.,1890-1955." Diss., University of Iowa, 1997.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Constantine-Simms, Delroy, ed. The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 2001.

Garber, Eric. "A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem." Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. New York: New American Library, 1989. 318-31.

Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. [1861]. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Murray, Stephen O., and Will Roscoe, eds. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Rupp, Leila J. A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Beemyn, Brett Genny  
    Entry Title: African Americans  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 7, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.