October is Black History Month in
the UK, and to mark it, we asked writer and activist Chardine
Taylor-Stone to tell us about the women of colour who inspire
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 marked a
seminal moment in our LGBTQ history.
Stonewall sparked a movement that
led to the first Pride marches and a generation fighting for their
rights to love and desire who they wanted, with no apologies.
Marsha P Johnson is a name we should all know as she is reported to
have been the first to show resistance outside the Stonewall Inn
where she was a regular.
A black trans woman, Marsha went on
to become a leader in the fight for trans rights in the 70s and 80s
and was becoming a well-known and respected HIV activist in New
York before her unresolved death in 1992.
Recent accounts of the Stonewall
Riots have whitewashed her pivotal role, depicting young white gay
cis men as first to resist police brutality.
The erasure of Marsha P Johnson is a
loss to us all. It is her legacy and her courage to say "no" and
take action that night outside the Stonewall Inn on her 25th
birthday that paved the way for all LGBTQs to be where we are
THE COMBAHEE RIVER
We are all familiar with "identity
politics" but how many know that the term was created by a group of
black lesbian feminists in the 1980s?
The Combahee River Collective (CRC)
was active from 1974 to 1980 and was named in honour of black
liberationist Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River raid of 1863,
in which she freed hundreds of slaves.
The CRC membership sounds like a
roll-call of the most important black feminists from second-wave
feminism. A fluid group, noted members included Barbara Smith,
Beverly Smith, Cheryl Clarke, Demita Frazier, Akasha Gloria Hull,
Audre Lorde and Chirlane McCray (now married to the mayor of New
Every one of these women continued
to fight for the rights of women of colour after the demise of CRC
and deserve to be better known.
The CRC's Black Feminist statement
was a challenge to the culture of racism within white feminist
spaces and misogyny in the black civil rights movement. Sadly, we
are still having these conversations and much of the racism and
misogyny that was unpicked by the CRC is just as relevant
It's because of these great minds
and spirits getting together that we now have a term that validates
our lived experiences of the multiple oppressions we face as LGBTQ
So when naysayers complain about
"identity politics", be sure to tell them who created the term and
the power behind it. It's not the invention of the postmodern
A talented blues singer and out
lesbian, Gladys Bentley is one of the iconic figures of the Harlem
A lover of the most dapper suits,
she performed under the stage name Bobbie Minton and had hits such
as How Much Can I Stand? and Wild Geese Blues, which she sang as a
head- liner at the legendary Cotton Club.
Her popularity in 1930s Harlem
reflects the underground sexual and gender revolution being
explored and celebrated by queer black creatives who were out to
challenge the more conservative views of black organisations such
as the NAACP.
Gladys Bentley's life maps the
changing visibility and acceptance of black gender expressions.
From suited and booted "bulldagger" in the 1930s to ditching
masculine attire for feminine dress and declaring herself "a woman
again", in oppressive, McCarthyite, 1950s America.
Bentley's initial joy in her
self-expression, individuality and love of women is an important
story in the history of masculine-of- centre
Read the rest of this article in the
October issue of DIVA, on sale now at the links
More like this
Putting the Pride in Black History Month
Black History Month: Bhav's story
Celebrating our Black LGBT icons
Remembering Catherine Duleep Singh
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