4 LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Went to HBCUs and 4 Who Didn’t

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, a month-long celebration that observes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history. In honor of this month, we are shining a light on the Black LGBTQ+ people who have made boundless contributions in several arenas. Here are  4 LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Went to HBCUs and 4 Who Didn’t!

Bayard Rustin – Wilberforce University & Cheney University 

Bayard Rustin was a human rights activist known for his work during the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest advisors and a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. In the 1980s, Rustin became a part of the LGBTQ+ movement and an advocate for AIDS education, playing a pivotal role in bringing it to the attention of the NAACP. In 2013, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newson pardoned Rustin for his 1953 arrest when he was arrested for a “moral cause” which led to his outing to the public.  Although criticism and discrimination over his sexual orientation resulted in Rustin taking a less public role in the Civil Rights Movement, he was still a hugely influential figure during the movement.

Barbara Jordan -Texas Southern University

Barbara Jordan was a lawyer, educator, civil rights leader, lawmaker, and the first LGBTQ+ woman in Congress. She was also the first African American elected to the Texas Senate in 1966, and the first woman and first African American elected to Congress from Texas in 1972.  Additionally, she became the first black female to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1976. One of Jordan’s most famous acts in Congress was the 15-minute televised speech she gave to the members of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings, on July 25, 1974. According to the U.S. National Archives, the speech is considered to be one of the “greatest speeches in 20th-century American history and a decisive part of swaying public opinion in favor of impeachment.”  Jordan was the recipient of several honors and recognitions including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. During her time as a state senator, she met her partner of nearly 30 years, Nancy Earl.  While Jordan was open about her sexual orientation with those close to her, she kept her relationship out of the public eye. 

Pauli Murray – Howard University 

Pauli Murray was a poet, lawyer, writer, teacher, civil rights activist, and priest whose legal arguments were used in landmark Supreme Court decisions outlawing racism and sexism. Murray graduated top of her class at Howard and was the only woman. She is the first African American to earn a J.S.D. from Yale Law School and a co-founder of the National Organization for Women. In 1977, Murray became the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Murray will soon become the first Black queer person to appear on U.S. currency as she will be featured on a quarter in the next round of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program. Murray wrote about gender identity and sexuality throughout most of her life. According to the Pauli Murray Center, “Murray actively used the phrase ‘he/she personality,’ during the early years of their life. Later in journals, essays, letters, and autobiographical works, Pauli employed ‘she/her/hers’ pronouns.” In her journals, Murray wondered if she was “one of nature’s experiments; a girl who should have been a boy.” Although denied, Murray requested testosterone injections and hormone therapy and consulted doctors in her belief that she may have been intersex and had undescended testis. Gender studies scholars now acknowledge that if Murray were living today, she might have identified as a transgender man.

Laphonza Butler – Jackson State University  

Laphonza Butler made history when she was sworn into the Senate in October 2023 as the first openly lesbian Black senator to serve in Congress, and the first openly LGBTQ senator to represent California. She will also be the third Black woman to ever serve in the Senate. Butler was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to fill late California senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat for the remainder of the term through 2024. She and her wife, Neneki, have a daughter named Nylah. 

Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins made history in 2017 as the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to public office in the United States. Jenkins made history again in January 2022, when she was elected as the first transgender official in the U.S. to lead a city council. Now serving as Minneapolis City Council President, she is also a writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist.

Stormé DeLarverie

Credit: The New York Times

Stormé DeLarverie was a gay rights activist and drag performer, rumored to have thrown the first punch at the Stonewall Uprising in New York City in 1969. Before her participation in Stonewall, DeLarverie spent the ’50s and ’60s as the only “male impersonator” in the Jewel Box Revue, the period’s only racially integrated drag troupe. Later in life, she served as a security guard at the neighborhood’s gay bars, calling herself the “guardian of the lesbians in The Village.” She patrolled the streets of Greenwich Village with a gun on her hip protecting young queer women at all costs. 

Ritchie Torres 

In 2020, Ritchie Torres won his seat in New York’s 15th Congressional District, becoming one of the first gay Black members of Congress. Prior to his election, Torres served as the youngest member of the New York City Council. He is currently one of the nine co-chairs of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and Freshman Crescendo Representative.

Mondaire Jones

Jones joined Torres as one of the first two openly LGBTQ+ Black members of Congress in 2020 when he was elected to represent New York’s 17th Congressional District in the House. During his time as a U.S. representative, he championed civil rights, voting rights, democracy, and Supreme Court reform. In 2023, Rep. Nancy Pelosi appointed former Congressman Mondaire Jones as a Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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