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7 Queer Black Trailblazers You Should Know

Happy Multiracial people celebrating gay pride festival

For decades we’ve celebrated figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass. And for good reason—these African American trailblazers have left an indelible mark on America.

Often overlooked, though, are the contributions of Black LGBTQ Americans, whose struggle for equality, respect, and full participation in society continues to this day.

Here are 7 Black LGBTQ leaders, activists, and pioneers whose lives and work helped move the needle toward greater equality for queer people everywhere.

Bayard Rustin

A leader in the civil rights and LGBT movements, Bayard Rustin lived openly as a gay man unapologetically, despite being publicly outed and shunned by civil-rights leaders for his sexual orientation.

Rustin was a principal organizer of the March on Washington and advocated for non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of MLK Jr. In the 1980s Rustin fought for LGBT rights and spoke out on behalf of the New York State’s Gay Rights Bill with a controversially titled speech, “The Gays Are the New N***ers.”

In 2015, Rustin’s partner, Walter Naegle, accepted the first Bayard Rustin Trailblazer Award at Logo Trailblazers Honors, the only televised LGBTQ awards ceremony in the US.

“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” –Bayard Rustin