Happy, Black and PRIDEful: 15 advocates helping to reshape the LGBTQ+ narrative

We celebrate 15 Black LGBTQ+ advocates who are inspiring the community with their vision and leading the way for a more inclusive future.

PRIDE 2018
(Photos Getty; art illustration Wendy L. Wilson)

Every movement has its iconic pioneers.

The ones who had the courage to suffer the brunt of resistance to change so later generations may possibly enjoy the fruits of their hard labor and heavy burdens.

As we celebrate culture and orientation during PRIDE 2018, theGrio turns our focus to today’s Black groundbreakers and innovators who are reinventing and creating new ways towards acceptance. Certainly no an easy task in a country guided by a president and an attorney general who have supported policies that neglect and devalue the of the LGBTQ+ community.

We raise our collective glasses and wave our rainbow flags in honor of these 15 Black LGBTQ+ advocates who are inspiring the community with their vision and leading the way for a more inclusive future.


Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe thegrio.com

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 07: Lena Waithe attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Twitter: @LenaWaithe
Location: Chicago

This award-winning actress, producer, and screenwriter broke barriers in 2017 after becoming the first Black woman to ever win a Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on the hit show Master of None. Since then, this trailblazer has gone on to create her own show, The Chi, which has received rave reviews and renewed for a second season on Showtime.

Waite has continued to be a strong advocate for LGBTQ people of color, recently gracing the cover of Vanity Fair and proudly rocking a rainbow pride flag at the Met Gala.


Charles Blow

Charles Blow thegrio.com

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 17: Journalist Charles M. Blow attends the Eighth Annual Brooklyn Artists Ball at The Brooklyn Museum on April 17, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Brooklyn Museum)

Twitter: @CharlesMBlow
Location: Brooklyn

He’s the outspoken New York Times columnist whose Op-Eds trend worldwide on Twitter. Blow has been an unapologetic voice that’s been calling out the Trump administration since the very beginning with his firebrand commentary on CNN and MSNBC.

Outside of politics, the proud Grambling State alum has never forgotten his Southern Louisiana roots, which he often highlights in his writing. His bestselling memoir “Fire Shut Up My Bones” took his level of recognition to new heights as he shared personal narratives of his childhood and bravely revealed to the world that he is bisexual.


Andrea Jenkins

Twitter: @annapoetic
Location: Minneapolis

This trailblazing politician made history in 2017 after becoming the first Black openly transgender woman elected to office. Jenkins, a Democrat, is the  Minneapolis City Councilwoman who impressively won her race with 73 percent of the vote. A poet and historian, Jenkins decided to run after years of being a policy aide.

“As an out African-American trans-identified woman, I know first-hand the feeling of being marginalized, left out, thrown under the bus. Those days are over. We don’t just want a seat at the table — we want to set the table,” Jenkins said about her win.



Kehlani thegrio.com

Kehlani arrives at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on TBS, TNT, and truTV at The Forum on March 11, 2018 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Twitter: @Kehlani
Location: Oakland

Turning the industry upside down with her fearless style and blunt appeal, this “SweetSexySavage” musician has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.

After her debut album topped the charts in 2017, Kehlani has grown her fanbase on social media with inspirational messages about self-esteem, mental health, and sexuality. The Grammy nominated artist made headlines this year when she came out as queer on Twitter, cultivating important discussions about sexual fluidity and gender expression.


Kehinde Wiley

Twitter: @kehindewileyart
Location: New York

This creative pioneer made history when he became the first Black artist to ever paint an official portrait of a U.S. president for the National Portrait Gallery which was commissioned by Barack Obama in 2017.

A Yale graduate, Wiley’s distinct love of incorporating bold colors and striking Black images in his works have taken the art world by storm. His work has won numerous national awards and his countercultural themes of Black masculinity throughout his art has sparked critical conversations beyond his sold-out exhibitions.


Janelle Monae

Twitter: @JanelleMonae
Location: Atlanta

When this powerhouse talent came out as pansexual and bisexual during the release of her new album “Dirty Computer,” she had the entire world on Google search. This is what makes Janelle Monae powerful and she continues to push the envelope with her bold and liberating visuals of love, sex, and empowerment in her art which isn’t just pretty. It also leaves an impression and makes you think long after seeing it.

This triple threat is sparking conversation worldwide and continues to entice audiences with her eclectic fashion, music, and film performances, further proving that this electric lady is here to slay.


Tarell Alvin McCraney


Twitter: @octarell
Location: Miami

After making history as one of the few Black screenwriters to ever win an Academy Award, Tarell Alvin McCraney has kept making major moves following his co-writing of the cinematic masterpiece, Moonlight.

McCraney recently became the new chair of playwriting at the prestigious Yale School of Drama and have gotten several of his upcoming projects green lit. The MacArthur grant recipient is currently anticipating the premiere of his upcoming play, “Choir Boy” to hit Broadway next year.


Sharron Cooks

Sharon Cooks thegrio.com

LGBTQ advocate, Sharron Cooks is the CEO of Making Our Lives Easier LLC. (Twitter)

Twitter: @MsSCooks1
Location: Philadelphia

This transgender activist and businesswoman became one of the few Black trans delegates to ever participate in the Democratic National Convention after representing Pennsylvania in 2016.

Since then, Cooks has continued to champion LGBTQ rights while serving on several national and statewide boards. In 2017, she became the first trans person to ever chair a citywide commission when she was elected chairwoman of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia.

Cooks is currently the CEO of Making Our Lives Easier, LLC, a business that provides consulting and support for women, communities of color, and LGBTQ organizations.


AbdulAliy Muhammad & Shani Akilah (co-founders of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative)

Shani Akilah and Abdul-Aliy Muhammad (l-r) are the co-founders of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative. (Photo courtesy of he Black and Brown Workers Cooperative)

Twitter: @twiddaFingaHz & @BBworkers
Location: Philadelphia

This incredible queer duo of Shani Akilah and Abdul-Aliy Muhammad are the co-founders of the Black & Brown Workers Cooperative (BBWC), an intersectional activist collective that combats white supremacy in local communities. Their organizing efforts have influenced institutional policy changes within the City of Philadelphia regarding racial discrimination in the LGBTQ community.

The duo continues to lead successful campaigns that address local gentrification and displacement, harassment at nonprofits, while also providing anti-oppression trainings for schools and businesses. Their LGBTQ activism has also been cited as part of the reason why there are now Black & brown stripes on Philadelphia’s new official pride flag.


Karamo Brown

Karamo Brown thegrio.com

Karamo Brown attends #NETFLIXFYSEE Event For “Queer Eye” at Netflix FYSEE At Raleigh Studios on May 31, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Twitter: @KaramoBrown
Location: Los Angeles

After becoming the first out Black gay man on reality television with his appearance on MTV’s Real World: Philadelphia in 2004, this trailblazer has gone on to make even more major breakthroughs.

Brown has continued to use his platform to spread advocacy and awareness as the co-founder of 6in10.org, a nonprofit that’s working to combat HIV stigma through mental health support and education in the Black LGBTQ community. Don’t worry, Brown can still be found on a reality show near you. He’s currently working as the culture expert in the Netflix revival of Queer Eye.


Cast of FX’s Pose

MJ Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore (l-r) are part of the cast of FX’s POSE, at the ‘Pose’ Ball in Harlem on June 2, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for FX Networks)

Twitter: @PoseOnFX
Location: New York

The hottest new show of the summer boasts the most talented cast of Black LGBTQ actors and actresses to ever be assembled for a television production.

Co-produced by the incomparable Janet Mock, Pose is set within New York City’s legendary ballroom scene and is packed with powerful messages of inclusion, survival, and resilience.

The show features the legendary Tony award-winner Billy Porter alongside a “10s across the board” cast that includes MJ Rodriguez, Angelica Ross, Dominique Jackson, Charlayne Woodard, Dyllon Burnside, Ryan Jamal Swain, and Indya Moore.

Dr. Shaun Harper

Dr. Shaun Harper thegrio.com

Dr. Shaun Harper is a professor at USC and one of the country’s foremost scholars on diversity and inclusion on college campuses.(Twitter)

Twitter: @DrShaunHarper
Location: Los Angeles

One of the most sought after scholars on diversity and inclusion on college campuses, Shaun Harper, Ph.D is a game changer in how we talk about race nationwide. From conducting groundbreaking research on ideas of race between over 10,000 students, faculty members, and staff across the country to making regular guest appearances on CNN, this distinguished University of Southern California professor doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  Most recently, Harper launched a new center on racial equity on campus.


Roxanne Gay

Roxanne Gay thegrio.com

Writer Roxanne Gay speaks onstage during the ‘Feminist AF’ panel, part of Vulture Festival LA Presented by AT&T at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on November 18, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)

Twitter: @rgay
Location: Indiana

This thought-provoking writer has challenged the way society thinks about many complex issues that often go ignored.

Roxanne Gay has used her wide reach to share nuanced views on feminism, body positivity, and intersectionality. Her New York Times bestsellers “Bad Feminist” and “Hunger” have literally changed the way people interpret these issues.

When not writing, Gay is busy as a highly sought after public speaker, essayist, and lecturer, regularly contributing to the New York Times. An avid comic book aficionado, her groundbreaking “Black Panther: World of Wakanda” series has been praised for its inclusion of LGBTQ characters and helping reignite fandom before the film.


J Mase III

J Mase III thgerio.com

J Mase III is a poet. educator. founder of @awQwardtalent. (Courtesy of J Mase III)

Twitter: @JMaseIII
Location: Seattle

One of the most nationally recognized Black transgender poets, J Mase III has been making major moves in reshaping the way we view LGBTQ identity as it intersects with race, class, and gender.

As the founder of awQward, the first-ever trans and queer people of color specific talent agency, he has been able to provide a platform to other marginalized voices through his activism around racial equity and access.

“We exist in opposition to transphobia & transmisogynoir. We exist in opposition to white supremacy. We exist in opposition to Islamophobia. We exist in opposition to anti-Blackness. We exist in opposition to ableism,” states the company’s website. ​

This mover and shaker continues to soar to new heights with his work recently being featured in the New York Times and HuffPost.


Big Freedia

Big Freedia thegrio.com

Big Freedia (Instagram: Big Freedia)

Twitter: @bigfreedia
Location: New Orleans

This powerhouse performer is shutting the entire game down with his daring artistry and unstoppable hustle.

Big Freedia is one of the most popular gay musicians around with a successful reality television show and sold-out concerts across the country. His signature personality shines through with his love for the upbeat, high-tiempo sound that is New Orleans bounce music.

After some epic guest appearances (and major checks) on Beyonce’s massive hit “Formation” and Drake’s chart-topper “Nice For What,” Big Freedia proves yet again that he “did not come here to play with you hoes.”

You already know!