8 Black, queer activists you should know now

Activism comes in many forms and each individual plays a part. theGrio rounded up eight queer activists that are making a difference in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Pride Month may be dedicated to June, but the movement to enact change is a year-round endeavor. There are many players in the LGBTQ+ community who are ensuring that lesbian, gay, trans and queer people not only have rights but also are thriving.

Activism comes in many forms and each individual plays a unique part. Some people are organizing and marching on the front lines, while others are creating safe spaces for those within the community. 

There are historical figures in the community, like Marsha P. Johnson, who were pillars in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Today, activists are continuing that legacy as entrepreneurs, educators, philanthropists and overall powerhouses.

theGrio rounded up eight LGBTQ+ activists who are doing the work to make our world a better, more inclusive place. Keep reading to educate yourself on the individuals making a difference in their communities and beyond. 

Phill Wilson 

Black AIDS Institute Founder Phill Wilson is seen at the AIDS Monument Groundbreaking on June 05, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Foundation for the AIDS Monument)

HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects the Black, queer community and Phill Wilson is a long time activist devoted to the cause. After losing his partner from an HIV-related illness and being diagnosed HIV himself, Wilson founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999.

He also served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and was also a World AIDS Summit delegate. Wilson is well known for his community work and creating the “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign, which encourages HIV testing, education for prevention, and treatment options.

Yasmin Benoit 

Asexuality is not just a “white thing,” and Yasmin Benoit is utilizing her platform to bring awareness to the matter in the Black community. She is creator of the #ThisIsWhatASexualityLooksLike campaign and she uses her YouTube channel to discuss the experiences of aromantic and asexual women. 

Sir Lady Java

Sir Lady Java is an American transgender rights activist, actress, singer, comedian, and exotic dancer. In the 1960s, she was known for her performances in nightclubs and was featured in magazines like Jet and Variety. In regards to her activism, she protested against Rule Number 9, a Los Angeles ordinance prohibiting people from dressing like the opposite sex.

While she had the American Civil Liberties Union on her side and tried to have the rule removed, the courts rejected her case. Nevertheless, three years later, Rule Number 9 was overturned. Sir Lady Java currently lives in Los Angeles as a multimedia artist. 

Zahara Green

Transgender activist Zahara Green is making major changes in Georgia. She is the founder and executive director of TRANScending Barriers Atlanta, a trans-focused non-profit with the mission to empower the transgender community in Georgia, through direct services, advocacy, and building future trans leaders.

After being incarcerated for five years and suing Georgia for having her rights violated (and winning), Green is now on the Board of Directors for Black & Pink Inc., a prison abolitionist program that focuses on supporting both LGBTQ+ and HIV+ prisoners. 

Dr. Tanya L. Saunders 

Dr. Tanya L. Saunders is an associate professor at the University of Florida, teaching in their Center for Latin American Studies. Dr. Saunders is a sociologist who explores the way the African diaspora, throughout the Americas, uses the arts as a tool for social change.

They are a 2011-2012 Fulbright Scholar, whose project was focused on Black queer activism in Brazil. This project is a continuation of their work in Cuba, where they explored race, gender, sexuality and arts-based social movements. 

Rebecca Walker

Author and activist Rebecca Walker is known for her identity navigation work and exploring living outside of conventional boxes. Some of her most familiar works include her memoir, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, and her first book, To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism.

She is also the co-founder of The Third Wave Fund, an organization uplifting youth vision and activism for gender justice. 

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy 

Trans activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a Stonewall veteran and a community leader. She is the former Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which helps incarcerated trans people.

Currently, she is the Founder and Executive Director of House of GG, a safe space for the transgender community where, according to their website, individuals “can heal—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—from the trauma arising from generations of transphobia, racism, sexism, poverty, ableism, and violence, and nurture them into tomorrow’s leaders.” 

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors
Patrisse Cullors speaks on stage at the Teen Vogue Summit 2019 at Goya Studios on November 02, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Teen Vogue)

Patrisse Cullors is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in 2013. She is also a performance artist, author and Fulbright scholar, who was named by the Los Angeles Times as a New Civil Rights Leader for the 21st Century. Cullors is an advocate for prison abolition and served as Executive Director of the Coalition to End Sherriff Violence in L.A. Jails.

She also supports LGBTQ+ rights. Cullors is an educator who teaches in the Master’s Arts in Social Justice and Community Organizing at Prescott College, as well as at Otis College of Art and Design in the Public Practice Program. 

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