As you all may be aware from our past few columns, February is Black History Month. Here is a list of four influential queer black people that you should know.

Alice Walker

An African-American poet and author, Walker was famous for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize novel The Color Purple. Born in 1944 in Georgia, she developed blindness in her right eye after being shot with a BB gun. She attended Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College and worked as a social worker, teacher and lecturer before she became active in the civil rights movement. She has protested the South African apartheid, the Iraq War, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and female genital mutilation. She is described as a free thinker with a legacy of conviction speaking out for human dignity, civil rights, and freedom.

James Baldwin

Born in 1924 in New York City, Baldwin was an author and social critic. James was heavily involved in the civil rights movement and most recently was the subject of the Oscar-nominated I am not your Negro. In his writings, Baldwin wrote about a plethora of social topics. A lot of James' works talk about gay identities. Most famously, in 1956, he wrote Giovanni's Room, a book that focuses on the challenges that a gay man faces while he is living in Paris.

Marsha P. Johnson

Born in New Jersey in 1945, she was a trans and gay activist. She was one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front and a highly respected ACT UP organizer. Marsha was present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Many people credit her with being the first to fight back with police. In 1970 Marsha and her good friend Sylvia Rivera formed Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. STAR’s focus was helping drag queens of color in New York. Even STAR house opened and served as a home to the homeless youth Marsha and Sylvia. Both serve as mothers to the youth of STAR.

Gladys Bentley 

Bentley was a lesbian blues singer who was was born in 1907 in Pennsylvania. She never spoke fondly of her childhood, citing her mother as the main cause. In 1952, Gladys penned “I Am Woman,” for Ebony Magazine. In the article she shares that her mother did not want a daughter and had no issue showing it. When Gladys was a teenager, she ran away from her home and headed to New York where she started performing. Over the years, Gladys made a name for herself and became famous for wearing a white tux with tails and a matching white top hat.

delfin bautista is the director of Ohio University's LGBT Center, faculty adviser to OU's Latino Student Union, and adjunct lecturer for the Social Work Program and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

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