October is Black History Month, a time to remember and celebrate Black people’s important roles throughout history and still today. Yesterday was also International Lesbian Day, a day to recognize and make visible the value of lesbian people. So, for today’s blog post, here are ten Black lesbians that everyone should know about and celebrate.
1. Linda Bellos
Business woman, radical feminist and LGBTQ+ rights activist, Linda Bellos OBE is an equality, diversity and human rights consultant for the UK’s commercial, public, and not-for-profit sectors. She became the first Black woman to join the feminist group the Spare Rib Collective in 1981, pushing for more intersectional forms of feminism before this was a well-known concept. She was the second ever Black woman to be elected the leader of a local authority when she when she became a Labour Councillor for Lambeth London Borough Council in 1985. She has been an active member of several political and activist campaigns and groups including the African Reparations Movement and the Southwark LGBT Network. Her leadership has improved equality within the Labour Party and the Metropolitan Police. She co-founded both Black History Month in the UK and The Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners.
2. Angela Davis
Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Angela Davis is a political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. Davis has fought against war and prisons and in favour of communism and feminism; she has created a name for herself as a leading activist in American politics. Working with Kimberlé Crenshaw, she co-formed the African American Agenda 2000, an alliance of Black feminists. After Trump’s inauguration, she was made an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington. While a controversial figure, Davis’ has had a huge influence in a variety of activist movements, leading to her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and her being included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
3. Stormé DeLarverie
Based on several eye-witnesses’ accounts, DeLarverie is believed to have thrown the first punch that started the Stonewall Riots, the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. A butch lesbian and civil rights activist, DeLarverie was also a celebrated entertainer who performed at such places as the Apollo Theatre and Radio City Music Hall. In addition to her work for the LGBTQ+ community, including as a street patrol worker keeping people safe in the village, she also supported women and children who had survived domestic abuse. In 2019 she was inducted on the American National LGBTQ Wall of Honour within the Stonewall National Monument.
4. Jackie Kay
Other Lovers, Trumpet, and Red Dust Road are only a few of the notable works by Scottish poet, playwright and novelist Jackie Kay. Her writing has touched on topics of race, identity, nationality, gender and sexuality and have won many, many awards, including Scottish Book of the Year and the Guardian Fiction Prize. Even her first book of poetry, the partially auto-biographical The Adoption Papers, won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award. In 2006 she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire, in 2016 she became the Scots Makar (national poet of Scotland), and in 2020 she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire. But perhaps the greatest thing about her: she lives in Manchester!
5. Lori Lightfoot
The first openly gay African American to be elected as a mayor of a major American city, Lori Lightfoot is the current mayor of Chicago. Her career began in law, working as an assistant attorney before eventually working for the Chicago Police Department. A week before her inauguration, she announced that Chicago would have its first Chief Equity Officer, a job which works to counter racial inequality in the city. Since taking office she has worked hard to decrease violence and increase affordable living for the people of Chicago. She supports police reform and Black Lives Matter and seems dedicated to improving public safety for all.
6. Audre Lorde
Writer, feminist, womanist, librarian and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde fought against the intersectional oppressions of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and homophobia. A Poet Laureate, her powerful poetry often engages in issues of oppression and liberation, and her essays and speeches (compiled in her book Sister Outsider) offer brilliant critiques of systemic oppression and outlines important methods for resisting it. Her theories and philosophies have contributed to ideas of black feminism and womanism. There are now multiple initiatives that support LGBTQ+ people of colour that are named in her honour, including The Audre Lorde Project and the Audre Lorde Award.
7. Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah
Known also as Lady Phyll, Opoku-Gyimah is the co-founder, trustee and executive director of UK Black Pride, which “promotes unity and co-operation among all Black people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent, as well as their friends and families, who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender.” She sits on the Trades Union Congress’s race relations committee and trustee of Stonewall, a leading LGBTQ+ rights charity in the UK. She is a co-editor of Sista!, an anthology by queer women of African/ Caribbean decent. She was nominated as ‘Woman of the Year’ at the Black LGBT Community Awards 2007, as a top-50 entrant in the Independent’s Pink List 2012, a top-100 entrant in the World Pride Power List 2012, and a Prime Minister’s Big Society Award in 2012.
8. Wanda Sykes
Emmy-award winning comedian Wanda Sykes has appeared in numerous film, television, theatre and stand-up shows. In 2009, Sykes became the first African American woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to be the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Sykes came out as part of her activism fighting Proposition 8, a Californian initiative which sought to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples from getting married. She fought hard for equal marriage in the USA and is an outspoken supporter of the Ruth Ellis Center, which supports runaway and homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
9. Lena Waithe
Screenwriter, producer and actress, Lena Waithe is quickly becoming a star of film and television. Most known for starring in Netflix’s Master of None, HBO’s Westworld and Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Waithe was the first ever Black woman to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. She is now writing several Showtime drama series. In 2018 she was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. When not working to create her own shows, she works to recruit more people of colour and queer artists for her film and television projects.
10. Gina Yashere
Hilarious Gina Yashere is a London born and raised comedian currently living and working in Hollywood. She has appeared on many reality TV, comedy panel, and stand-up shows in both the UK and the USA. She now writes for Chuck Lorre’s CBS sitcom, Bob Hearts Abishola. She has three stand-up specials, including The Standups with Gina Yashere on Netflix.