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Black History Month: Inspirational women of colour

Chardine Taylor-Stone finds inspiration in the lives of iconic LGBTQ women of colour.

Chardine Taylor-Stone

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 13:26:58 GMT | Updated today

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 her. 




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 today. 




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 York). 


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 today. 


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 people. 


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 feminist generation. 




A talented blues singer and out lesbian, Gladys Bentley is one of the iconic figures of the Harlem Renais- sance. 


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 women. 




Read the rest of this article in the October issue of DIVA, on sale now at the links below. 


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Putting the Pride in Black History Month


Black History Month: Bhav's story


Celebrating our Black LGBT icons


Remembering Catherine Duleep Singh


Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.  //

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