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Marsha Johnson was a prominent figure in the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Pride month is here, but some may be unaware of the impact black LGBTQ citizens have made in the fight for equality based on gender identification and sexuality. From Stonewall riots to civil rights movements, their advocacy and stories lay the foundation for LGBTQ social movements. 

Marsha Johnson

Known as one of the most important faces involved in the Stonewall riots in 1969, Johnson was a self-identified drag queen as well as an advocate for LGBTQ lives. Johnson was one of the pioneers who initiated the protests in New York City. She also co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a street organization to help homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers until it disbanded.

James Baldwin

Baldwin is known for his famous works of writing and being a prominent figure in the civil rights movement. His stories often shared the harsh realities of the black experience, and he used his passion to write as a way to educate others about racial issues. He explored same-sex relations in his work “Giovanni’s Room,” embedding his own opinions on sexuality within the story. 

Bayard Rustin 

Rustin was a civil rights activist and organizer who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the  ’60s. He often caused societal disruption by organizing protests and was sentenced to jail for having sexual relations with men. Nevertheless, Rustin’s setbacks didn’t stop him from living as an openly black gay man

Ernestine Eckstein 

Eckstein was the vice president of the Daughter of Bilitis’ New York chapter. Daughter of Bilitis was a civil rights group made for lesbians looking to socialize, and it guaranteed safety to express themselves so they wouldn’t be targeted by police. She participated in protests before Stonewall, making her one of the first black female advocates for the LGBTQ community. 

Barbara Jordan 

Jordan was a lawyer and the first black woman elected to Congress. She won her position in the Texas Senate in 1966 and went on to work for the U. S. House of Representatives in 1972. Jordan kept her private life to herself, but it was suspected that her caretaker later in life was her partner, Nancy Earl.

Alain LeRoy Locke 

Locke is also known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” He valued promoting diversity and culture, and successfully did so with his collection of poems and essays by black and white writers called  “The New Negro.” He introduced new perspectives on social constructs and the black experience, encouraging others to engage with African American history. 

As the fight for equality continues for minority groups, it’s important to remember the impact Black LGBTQ folks have made on two of the largest and longest running social justice fights in history. 

Contact Joanna Sommer at sommerjj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.